DUBLIN, Ireland, Feb 26 – Ireland’s Six Nations match with Italy in Dublin on March 7 has been postponed due to the coronavirus epidemic, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) announced on Wednesday.
The IRFU consulted with Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, who had expressed his misgivings on Tuesday due to 12 deaths from the new coronavirus in Italy, the EU country that has been hit hardest by the virus, registering 374 cases of infection.
The other matches with Italy teams that weekend — the Under-20s and women’s internationals — have also been postponed.
“At the outset we made it clear that the IRFU was supportive of the (Irish) government’s need to protect public health in relation to the coronavirus,” read an IRFU statement.
“We were then advised, formally, that The National Public Health Emergency team has determined that the series of matches should not proceed, in the interests of public health. The IRFU is happy to comply with this instruction.”
The IRFU added they would be looking to reschedule the games. Cancellation would cost millions of lost euros, not just to the IRFU, but also to the hospitality industry.
According to the IRFU, 2,400 Italian fans were expected that weekend.
Harris welcomed the IRFU’s decision by telling the BBC: “I very much appreciate the importance that they too attach to public health.”
Dr Tony Holohan, Ireland’s chief medical officer, said in a statement: “Today’s recommendation to cancel the series of Ireland v Italy rugby matches is based on the rapidly evolving nature of the outbreak in northern Italy, and the consequent risk of importation of cases into Ireland were the match to go ahead.”
– Other Six Nations matches going ahead –
Meanwhile the Six Nations said all other matches in this season’s edition were “currently scheduled to go ahead as normal”.
“We are fully supportive of any preventative measures taken in the interests of overall public health in relation to the coronavirus and we will respect instructions provided by Government authorities and health organisations,” said a Six Nations statement.
“We will be holding further discussions with all six Unions with respect to the rescheduling options for all the affected games, factoring in the current dynamic situation,” organisers added.
France currently lead the Six Nations and will be crowned champions if they win away to Scotland on March 7 and at home to Ireland on March 14 to complete a Grand Slam.
There is a precedent for rescheduling Six Nations fixtures due to health concerns.
In 2001, due to the highly contagious livestock foot and mouth outbreak, Ireland had three matches (against Scotland, Wales and England) rescheduled to September/October of that year.
At the time of the postponements, England were one win away from the Grand Slam but lost 20-14 to Ireland when their delayed fixture was eventually played in Dublin.
England did, however, win the championship title on points difference from Ireland.
In Italy, concerns over the spread of the coronavirus have led to the postponement of club matches in rugby union’s Pro 14 and football’s Serie A.
The outbreak is also having an impact upon the global sporting calendar, with the postponement of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai, which had been due to take place on April 19.
Meanwhile athletics’ World Indoor Championships, scheduled to take place in the Chinese city of Nanjing next month, has now been postponed until 2021, while games in Chinese football’s Super League have been delayed.
Several Asian golf tournaments have also been put on hold by the outbreak, which could yet threaten the continent-wide Euro 2020 football championships starting in June and the Tokyo Olympics, due to get underway in July.