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England’s final Guinness Six Nations match against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico will either be played behind closed doors or postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
It comes after an Italian government decree released on Wednesday night 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 Covid-19.
Sources at the Italian Rugby Federation and Italian Olympic Committee have confirmed to the PA news agency that England’s climax to the Championship, originally scheduled for March 14, could now be replayed at a later date.
Six Nations organisers are being guided by government directives and, in light of the decree, they will discuss the fate of the game with the English and Italian unions on Thursday.
Rearranging the fixture will be difficult due to the packed rugby calendar and the need to secure player releases from Gallagher Premiership clubs, but the IRF will also be reluctant to lose the revenue generated by a lucrative home clash with Eddie Jones’ title hopefuls.
A statement on www.governo.it read: “There will be no sporting events held in the presence of the public, as we look to prevent further opportunities for infection.
“The provisions of this decree are effective from the date of publication until April 3, 2020.”
Serie A fixtures will also be affected, while the Coppa Italia semi-final between Napoli and Inter Milan, scheduled for Thursday evening, was postponed earlier on Wednesday.
Juventus are also scheduled to play Lyon on March 17 in Turin in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
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.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, meanwhile, has admitted the outbreak has made it a “challenging” time for the movement but refused to speculate over the extent of the threat to Tokyo 2020.
Speaking after the second day of the IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne, Bach insisted: “I can tell you that today…neither the word ‘cancellation’, nor the word ‘postponement’ was even mentioned.
“Of course we are a responsible organisation and this is why we have a joint-task force which is having regular meetings, but we are not speculating on any kind of future developments.”
However, Bach did concede that the ongoing cancellation of a number of Olympic qualification tournaments around the world had led to some logistical and scheduling concerns.
He added: “We have challenges now with qualifications and you know the many measures we have been under-taking.
“This is challenging, yes, but I must also say I’m pretty proud of the Olympic movement for the great solidarity and flexibility everybody has shown so far to address these challenges.”
British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Anson has emphasised preparations for Tokyo 2020 continue despite the developing outbreak.
Anson said a planned preparatory trip to Tokyo, with around 55 people travelling, was still set to go ahead as the BOA received information from “every possible source” in a “rapidly evolving situation”.
Anson told BBC Sport: “It is not affecting our plans in any way, in that we are absolutely focused on getting the team to Tokyo for the Olympics in July and everyone is obsessed with that, that is the number one focus.
“It’s obviously a rapidly evolving situation, there’s a lot of uncertainty about where it goes. So our assumption is the Olympics is going to happen, but at the same time we are making sure we are aware of what is going on in the world.”
Meanwhile Rory McIlroy, planning to make his Olympic debut in Tokyo, said he would have no concerns about travelling if he got the green light from health officials.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, McIlroy said: “It’s something that we’re trying to stay on top of.
“If the organisers and the Olympic Committee believe it’s safe enough that athletes can go and compete in the Games then you have to take their word for it.”
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.
It is understood the league’s current message is ‘business as usual’ but that it has advised clubs to increase hygiene levels at stadiums and training grounds, cut down on non-essential visitors and keep face-to-face meetings to a minimum.
Club Statement: Billy and Mako Vunipola
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) March 4, 2020
Uncertainty over Covid-19 was illustrated on Wednesday by Saracens saying Mako Vunipola had not displayed symptoms of the virus and was available to face Leicester this weekend, despite England having ruled him out of their Six Nations clash with Wales.
The loosehead prop, having flown back from Tonga via Hong Kong, did not join up with Jones’ squad this week ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations match against Wales at Twickenham.
The Rugby Football Union on Tuesday said that while Vunipola was “not sick”, it was “on medical grounds” that he was not in the camp, and it was understood the prop was in self-isolation as a precaution.
England have revealed that their camp environment influenced the decision.
“Our medical team looks at our team environment, not other people’s, and that’s the advice we followed,” assistant coach Steve Borthwick told BBC 5 Live.
“We are a camp-based environment and we stay in together 24 hours a day effectively.”
However, Saracens released a statement which said of Vunipola and his brother and team-mate Billy, who also made the trip: “Neither Billy or Mako have displayed symptoms of the coronavirus (Covid-19) and on their return to London were assessed by the club’s medical staff.
“The duo have been around the Saracens environment for the past couple of days, with the latter available for selection this weekend.”
“Saracens will continue to follow the Public Health England and World Health Organisation regulations surrounding coronavirus and the medical staff will be closely monitoring Billy and Mako on a regular basis.”
As a precautionary and proactive measure, in conjunction with the local authorities, the decision has been made to postpone The Ladies Open at Yas Links Abu Dhabi until further notice. This decision is to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of players, guests and visitors.
— The Ladies Open at Yas Links Abu Dhabi (@LadiesOpenYLAD) March 4, 2020
The Asia Sevens International, set to take place on April 25 and 26 and serve as a test event for rugby sevens at the Tokyo Olympics, had been cancelled due to concerns relating to the virus.
A women’s golf event in Abu Dhabi which was due to start on Friday has been postponed on similar grounds, while Italy’s Francesco Laporta has been forced out of this week’s Qatar Masters after being faced with two weeks’ quarantine on arriving in Doha.
Cycling outfits Mitchelton-Scott and Team INEOS both announced they would not be racing until the Volta a Catalunya on March 23.
Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley still expects the Masters to go ahead as planned next month.
“The safety, health and well-being of everyone is our top priority at Augusta National Golf Club. We are, therefore, mindful of the Novel Coronavirus COVID-19, which has been widely reported and continues to spread in areas where it has been detected,” he said.