Manchester City’s clash with Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium later today (Wednesday) has become the first English Premier League match affected by the Coronavirus, but the League has maintained that there are currently no plans to postpone further games.
City was due to face Arsenal tonight, but the fixture had been complicated after it emerged that a number of the North London club’s players had been in contact with Evangelos Marinakis, owner of Greek Super League club Olympiacos.
Marinakis, who also owns English Championship club Nottingham Forest, created headlines earlier this week when he announced that he had tested positive for Coronavirus. Olympiacos progressed to the Round of 16 of the UEFA Europa League after defeating Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on February 27.
Marinakis attended the game and Arsenal has since disclosed that he had met some of its players after last month’s match. In a statement released today, Arsenal said: “Following yesterday’s news that Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis has recently contracted Covid-19, we have been taking medical advice and tracing any individuals who had what the guidelines define as close contact with him at the game 13 days ago.
“As a result of this exercise we identified that a number of players met the Olympiacos owner immediately following the game. The medical advice we have received puts the risk of them developing Covid-19 at extremely low.
“However, we are strictly following the Government guidelines which recommend that anyone coming into close contact with someone with the virus should self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact. As a result, the players are unavailable for tonight’s match against Manchester City and the Premier League has decided the game should be postponed.
“The players will remain at their homes until the 14-day period expires. Four Arsenal staff – who were sitting close to Mr Marinakis during the match – will also remain at home until the 14 days are complete.”
The move is believed to be the first time players from a major sports league have gone into self-isolation because of potential exposure to the virus. Tonight’s match is the first Premier League game to be affected by Coronavirus. While leagues across Europe have been forced to take measures against the spread of the virus, UK sporting events have largely proceeded unaffected.
As of 6am today, there have been 382 recorded Coronavirus cases in the UK, with six deaths. In a statement, the Premier League said: “We understand this will cause inconvenience and cost to fans planning to attend the game but Arsenal, Manchester City and the Premier League have agreed that the short notice of Mr Marinakis’ infection means there is no alternative but to take the time to complete a proper assessment of risk. All necessary measures are being taken and the Premier League currently has no plans to postpone any other matches.”
The decision concerning the Manchester City-Arsenal match comes with their fellow Premier League club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, set to face Olympiacos in Athens tomorrow in the first leg of their Europa League Round of 16 meeting.
The match at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium is already being held behind closed doors, but in the wake of the developments surrounding Marinakis, Wolves had called on UEFA to postpone the game. The West Midlands club confirmed last night that its appeal had been unsuccessful, criticising the stance of European football’s governing body.
The match will now take place in line with the Greek government’s enforced temporary suspension of spectators attending sporting events, to limit the spread of Coronavirus in Greece. Wolves said: “Our position is that the trip poses unnecessary risks to our players, staff, supporters and the families of all who travel, at such critical and uncertain times.”
The club added: “We believe that there are some things that are more important than football, and that the good health of our pack and the general public is one of them. However, we respect the decision of UEFA and the integrity of the competition, and we will travel to Greece to play the fixture.
“We hope that our request to UEFA, and our acceptance of their decision, can act as the catalyst for them to consider alternative options moving forwards, as this will not be the last fixture to be affected by coronavirus.”
Olympiacos today announced that medical exams for all members of football staff, as well as board members and officials, had come back negative with regards any potential Coronavirus infection.