ROME, Italy, Mar 22 – The head of an Italian football club based at the heart of the coronavirus pandemic in Brescia said it was time to cancel the Serie A season because of “the plague”.
The top Italian league’s basement dwellers are destined for relegation — should the matches ever play out to their logical end in May.
No ball has been kicked in anger in the football-mad country since March 9 because of an outbreak that bore down on Italy from China last month.
The nation of 60 million is under a lockdown that could well run for many more weeks.
Schools are not expected to reopen until after the summer. Stores may be shuttered for many weeks. The government ordered huge factories to suspend their operations Saturday night.
Yet some Italian clubs with title aspirations are thinking of resuming practise in preparation for possible matches behind closed doors.
The idea created understandable interest in an Italian sports media market starved of anything to write about — or debate.
It also prompted Brescia president Massimo Cellino to bluntly tell those thinking of playing during a national crisis that has killed close to 5,000 people in Italy to focus on saving lives.
“Life first. Life, damn it,” the 63-year-old businessman told the Corriere dello Sport in a frank interview.
“Everything has to be moved to the next season. It is time for realism, gentlemen. This is the plague,” Cellino said.
– ‘Lunacy’ –
Brescia is one of the cities in Italy’s northern Lombardy region around Milan most heavily hit by the new infectious disease.
Lombardy’s death toll shot past 3,000 on Saturday.
The region’s 12-percent mortality rate among those officially infected is much higher than anything reported out of China’s Hubei province at the peak of its outbreak this year.
None of the teams based in the region have expressed an interest in playing any time soon.
This is not the case for those based around Rome or playing in southern regions that have been relatively spared in the first month of an outbreak that has now spread around the world.
The capital region’s Lazio — just a point behind perennial champions Juventus — have said they wanted to start training as early as Monday.
Italian media speculate they might postpone it until after the ban on public gatherings formally expires on Wednesday.
Sixth-placed Napoli also aired plans to start practise next week.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has already indicated that all the national bans and closures will be extended for weeks if not months.
Torino club president Urbano Cairo told Italian media it was “lunacy” to be thinking about football during what Conte on Saturday called Italy’s biggest disaster since World Way II.
Cairo said clubs from region that had managed to largely avoid the outbreak were “foolish to argue (for a resumption) based on contagion data”.
Napoli’s southern Campania region has recorded only 22 deaths.
“Saying my region has no problem, when the situation is constantly changing, makes no sense,” Cairo said.
Brescia’s Cellino agreed.
“This season is finished. Anyone who wants this cursed (title), take it. It is closed. Finished,” the club president said.
And I am not saying this because Brescia are last in the standings.”