Scottish season ‘very difficult’ to complete if coronavirus affects one club

·6 min read

The football season in Scotland would be “very difficult” to complete if just one club was affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the Scottish Professional Football League chief executive Neil Doncaster has said.

His statement followed the announcement that England’s final Guinness Six Nations match against Italy in Rome on March 14 was the latest sporting event to be postponed due to the spread of Covid-19.

Following discussions with the Scottish Government, Scottish football’s Joint Response Group updated its members on the latest situation.

Given the limitations of the fixture calendar, a view was taken that the SPFL and Scottish FA should “endeavour to complete the season and fulfil their obligations under their broadcasting agreements”.

SPFL chief executive Doncaster, though, warned a change in the circumstances could have a major impact on the remainder of the campaign.

“We are taking a pragmatic approach to the current situation and have alerted our members to the fact that, if the outbreak affects the first team of even one SPFL club, it could make completing the SPFL season very difficult, so first-team players and staff should be extremely vigilant,” Doncaster said.

“Whilst the current, clear advice is that matches should proceed as scheduled, we will obviously prepare for contingencies where matches might have to be played behind closed doors, or even be cancelled, as we have already seen with other major sporting events.

“With that in mind, we have alerted the Scottish Government to the dire financial consequences facing clubs if the current situation changes and clubs are unable to generate revenue from ticket sales.”

The coronavirus outbreak continues to impact on sporting events around the world.

England’s Six Nations match against Italy in Rome could have been played behind closed doors, but tournament organisers chose instead to reschedule the fixture for later in the year – which will also be the case for the Ireland-Italy game due to be played this weekend.

The accompanying Italy versus England fixtures for the women and under-20s have also been called off.

HEALTH Coronavirus
PA Graphic

Italy is the European country most affected by coronavirus, with more than 3,000 people infected – a number which includes over 100 deaths. Eleven towns in northern Italy are in lockdown.

Andrea Agnelli, chairman of Serie A giants Juventus, says containing the outbreak of the coronavirus is at the forefront of every club’s mind in Italy, with economic effects coming secondary.

The Italian government decree released on Wednesday said all sporting events in the country would not be open to the public until April 3 in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus.

Speaking at the FT Business for Football summit, Agnelli said: “The phase we are in with spread of Covid-19, public health is paramount and the objective of everyone is to contain the virus as much as possible.

“Our position as a club has been clear. We have to take the line of the scientific community of what should and should not be done, then it’s the role of the authorities to come out with the correct pieces of law and sporting authorities must follow suit.

“We must behave responsibly. The economic effects of such responsible action should and will come second. From there on it is not for clubs to decide what should be done, our responsibility is to follow what the authorities have told us in the interest of public health.”

FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation will provide an update on qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup in the coming days following consultation with the AFC member associations.

In England, there has as yet been no additional announcement over any impact on domestic fixtures.

The PA news agency understands the Premier League has written to each of its 20 clubs regarding the latest contingency plans for combating the spread of the virus.

Clubs were reminded of the importance of keeping hygiene standards up at both the training ground and stadium for the safety of fans, players and staff.

Everton chief finance officer Sasha Ryazantsev told the FT Business of Football Summit in London that fans would understand why matches were needed to be played behind closed doors or postponed if such a decision was taken because of the outbreak.

Could matches at Goodison Park be played behind closed doors if the outbreak intensifies?
Could matches at Goodison Park be played behind closed doors if the outbreak intensifies? (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“The whole situation goes far beyond the world of sport. Of course nobody wants to play behind closed doors and I don’t think it’s inevitable at the moment that it will happen,” Ryazantsev said.

“But we feel it is quite likely it may happen in the coming weeks. If it were to happen it’s not about the money but looking after our supporters. I believe they would understand that.

“I believe it will have a negative financial impact on the club and football but a temporary one rather than a lasting impact.”

The EFL, meanwhile, remains in close contact with the Government regarding the ongoing concerns posed by the coronavirus.

“We will continue that dialogue, alongside monitoring the advice issued by the relevant authorities, ensuring clubs are updated with any developments,” an EFL statement read.

Sunderland manager Phil Parkinson confirmed players will not be allowed to travel abroad when the club has a break in league action later in March.

The Rugby Football League has advised clubs “there is presently no rationale to close or cancel sporting events in this country – although clearly this may change as the situation evolves”.

The two fixtures in France this weekend will go ahead as planned.

Golf, meanwhile, continues to be badly affected by the spread of the virus, with the MENA Tour postponing the rest of this season’s tournaments until September-December.

Five of the events were due to take place in the United Arab Emirates, with the season-ending Arena Championship scheduled for April 20-22 in Jordan.

On the Asian Tour, the Royal’s Cup 2020 scheduled for March 12-15 in Thailand has been postponed indefinitely.

In cycling, Astana Pro Team have followed Team Ineos and Mitchelton-Scott in withdrawing from all races until a later date in March due to the coronavirus.

A statement confirmed the team will not return to racing until March 20, meaning they will not participate in races at the Strade Bianche, Paris-Nice, and Tirreno-Adriatico.