ROME, Italy, May 28 – Serie A will learn the fate of the Italian season on Thursday, with a government decision due on whether football can resume after a three-month absence in a country hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora will hold a video conference at 6:30pm local time (1630 GMT), with representatives of Italian football including federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina and Lega Serie A chief Paolo Dal Pino.
Italian football bosses are hopeful that Italy can follow the German Bundesliga, which has already returned, and Spain’s La Liga which is preparing to kick off again on June 11.
The season has been on hold since March 9 when it was halted as coronavirus infections spread rapidly in Italy. The pandemic has killed more than 33,000 people in the country.
Opposition has been particularly strong in Lombardy, the region most affected with nearly 16,000 deaths alone, and where four Serie A clubs play — Inter Milan, AC Milan, Atalanta and Brescia.
But there are strong indications that Spadafora, who just a month ago said he was “very sceptical” about the possibility of a return, will give the green light.
Italy has started to ease its strict lockdown measures and the daily figures have been reassuring, even if the virus is still circulating, especially in Lombardy.
The prospect of seeing Juventus and Lazio compete for the title has become acceptable again.
Italian football chiefs want competition to resume on June 13, with the possibility of starting with four postponed fixtures, or the Italian Cup semi-finals, with a full return on June 20.
The worst-case scenario would be a government refusal to return to action which, like in France, would signal the end of the season.
But even in the event of a government all-clear on Thursday, football will have to implement health protocols.
“Footballers are not robots, there are concerns,” said Damiano Tommasi, president of the players’ union.
“A critical issue is (playing a) match at 4.30pm which in June and July in Italy is unthinkable,” added the former Italy and Roma player.
– Thorny quarantine dilemma –
Many issues remain to be resolved including match schedules, players’ contracts which end on June 30, and unpaid TV rights by broadcasters.
But the thorniest remains the two-week quarantine period in the case of a positive test.
Bologna on Wednesday announced a “suspicious result” among one of their coaching staff.
The team said on Thursday that a test on the member of staff “came back with a negative result”, but “a further, final in-depth test will be carried out in the next few hours”.
“However, as a precautionary measure, today’s training sessions will be done individually.”
Players and staff members must, if the positive test is confirmed, submit to a 14-day quarantine.
Football authorities remain hopeful that they can request that the quarantine period be reduced to seven days.
“I’m ready to bet on the resumption of the championship, but with this rule of quarantine of 14 days, the possibilities of carrying it out are not high,” said Enrico Castellacci, president of the Italian Football Doctors Association.
“It’s a crime. I’m not going to quarantine 50 healthy people. We don’t do this if there is a positive case in a factory,” argued Lazio doctor Ivo Pulcini, with the Roman club committed to a resumption of the season, as they sit just one point behind leaders Juventus.
But teams need the blessing of Spadafora.
Sports daily Corriere dello Sport warned that the minister was “a formidable specialist in traps and surprises”.
“Spadafora, no jokes!” wrote daily Tuttosport.
The Turin newspaper said that, accounting for one percent of GDP and more than 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in taxes paid, football is not a trivial sector of the Italian economy.
FIGC president Gravina warned of “irreparable damage” to Italian football if the season does not resume.
“We have already lost 500 million euros ($550 million).”