Coronavirus outbreak

Fans may be barred from EPL games later this month

A message of support for Wuhan last month at Molineux Stadium before the Premier League game between Wolves, who are owned by Chinese investment group Fosun, and Leicester. Wuhan is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. PHOTO: REUTERS
A message of support for Wuhan last month at Molineux Stadium before the Premier League game between Wolves, who are owned by Chinese investment group Fosun, and Leicester. Wuhan is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • English Premier League matches are likely to be played behind closed doors this month owing to the spread of the coronavirus, according to Everton chief financial officer Sasha Ryazantsev.

Banning fans from games in an attempt to slow the spread of the Covid-19 disease would be a decision imposed on clubs, he said.

With the Italian authorities deciding to play Serie A games behind closed doors until next month, the possibility of something similar in England is increasing.

"It would be a forced decision rather than one we would proactively engage in," said Ryazantsev at the FT Business of Football Summit in London. "But the whole situation goes far beyond the world of sport. Nobody wants to play behind closed doors... But we feel it is quite likely it may happen in the coming weeks."

The Premier League confirmed on Thursday that fair-play handshakes will not take place between players and match officials from this weekend.

Officials wrote to clubs this week asking them to prepare contingency plans, as the official government response moved from one of containment to trying to slow the spread of the disease.

In the letter, the league suggested that an outbreak of the virus at just one club would make it difficult to complete the season.

In one example of changing behaviour, measures taken by runaway league leaders Liverpool include not having any child mascots on the pitch. The club added: "Any supporter displaying symptoms that are consistent with the virus should ensure they familiarise themselves with the chief medical officer's advice on self-isolation."

In Italy, the head of the players' union has said that besides fans, players are also at risk and some are worried about playing matches even without spectators.

The contagion has hit the country hard, with 148 deaths and 3,858 cases.

"Among the players, there are those who agree to go ahead and those who are concerned," AIC president Damiano Tommasi said. "We will now take all precautions, but the players on the pitch are also at risk: And in the event of a contagion, the quarantine rules also apply to professionals."

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2020, with the headline Fans may be barred from EPL games later this month. Subscribe