MILAN (Reuters) - One of the top Serie A fixtures of the season was abandoned amid bizarre scenes on Sunday when Napoli failed to turn up to face Juventus, saying the local health authority had told their players to stay at home following positive COVID-19 cases.
With the Serie A league refusing to call the game off, Juventus arrived at the Allianz stadium in Turin in their team bus one hour before the scheduled kickoff time and announced their lineup while match officials were also present.
The floodlights were turned on, the match day music was played and photographs showed Juventus players on the pitch in training kits -- with Napoli still in Naples.
After a regulation 45-minute wait, the match was officially called off with Serie A describing it as “not played” on its website. Under Serie A rules, Juventus are likely to be handed a 3-0 win.
A Napoli spokesman confirmed to Reuters hours before kickoff that the team had been placed into isolation by the health authority (ASL) after two players tested positive in the last four days. He said they would challenge any decision to forfeit the game.
An official from the Naples ASL confirmed in a television interview that the Napoli players had been ordered to stay at home.
“We’ve never expressly said they can’t play but it’s clear that is a consequence,” he said.
Earlier, Serie A insisted the game go ahead, saying the ASL had failed to take into account the health protocol agreed between the country’s health and sports ministry and the football authorities.
This states that, if players test positive, the rest of the squad can still train and play again providing they are tested again and return negative results. The statement added that several matches had been played this season after teams had one or more players test positive.
“The protocol lays down certain rules that cannot be deviated from, which allow league matches to be played even in the event of a positive result, deploying players who have tested negative,” it said.
Juventus made a point of saying they were preparing for the match, posting a Tweet which said simply “Matchday”, accompanied by a photograph of forward Cristiano Ronaldo, hours before kickoff.
“Juventus abide by the rules and there is a clear protocol,” club president Andrea Agnelli told reporters.
Last Sunday, Napoli hosted Genoa, where 17 players have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week. Genoa’s match at home to Torino on Saturday was postponed.
Serie A has ruled that matches should go ahead provided each team has a minimum of 13 players available and that teams who cannot play would suffer a forfeit.
However, teams have the right to ask for a postponement without forfeiting if 10 players are infected within one week.
Reporting by Elvira Pollina and Crispian Balmer; Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond
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