Serie A

The Italian government has given Serie A the green light to resume its 2019-20 season on June 20, a week later than it had initially planned.

The announcement on Thursday evening came shortly after the English Premier League confirmed that it will resume its 2019-20 season on June 17, provided that all safety requirements are in place. Italy’s Sports Minister, Vincenzo Spadafora, said approval has been granted for football to recommence after holding a meeting with the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).

Spadafora said: “The meeting was very useful. Italy is now starting again and it is right that football starts again too. If the (COVID-19) curve changes and the league has to be stopped again, the FIGC has assured me that there exists a plan B – playoffs – and also a plan C – leaving the standings as they are.”

Serie A has been suspended since March 9, when the government ordered a lockdown amid the pandemic. The 2019-20 season has 12 rounds remaining, plus four matches that were postponed from the 25th round. Reigning champion Juventus currently holds a one point advantage over Lazio at the top of the table.

Earlier this month, the suspension of Serie A was extended to June 14 – a day later than the league had originally planned. Lega Serie A, the organising body of the league, had earlier outlined plans to resume on June 13 in accordance with government decisions and medical protocols for protecting players and staff. However, the FIGC announced that it was complying with a government decree banning sports until June 14.

“The league will restart on June 20,” Spadafora said. “There is then the possibility that the Coppa Italia semi-finals and final can be played on June 13 and 17.”

Lega Serie A is due to meet today and could formalise its calendar for resumption. Serie B, the second tier of Italian football, also plans to restart on June 20. Lega president Paolo Dal Pino said: “We have faced with consistency, determination and spirit of service an extraordinary period, complex and full of obstacles and pressures, always working with one thought: the good of football and the defence of its future”

FIGC president, Gabriele Gravina, added: “The restart of football represents a message of hope for the whole country.”

Serie A will be the fourth of Europe’s ‘big five’ domestic leagues to restart following the German Bundesliga, which resumed on May 16, and Spanish LaLiga and Premier League, which hope to recommence on June 11 and June 17, respectively. France’s Ligue 1 ended its season last month.

Premier League/FA Cup

The Premier League has today stated that it has a neutral-venue contingency after the national lead for football policing, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, said up to six of the remaining 2019-20 season matches could be moved from the stadia of the home clubs.

The Premier League yesterday confirmed that it will resume its 2019-20 season on June 17, provided that all safety requirements are in place. Speaking today, Roberts said the matches concerned could be moved to neutral venues at the request of local police forces.

The fixtures are:

Manchester City v Liverpool

Manchester City v Newcastle United

Manchester United v Sheffield United

Newcastle v Liverpool

Everton v Liverpool

The game in which Liverpool could win the title

Roberts said: “The views and agreement of forces which host Premier League clubs have been sought and where there were concerns, the Premier League has been supportive in providing flexibility in arranging alternative venues where requested.

“This plan will be kept continually under review to ensure public health and safety and a key part of this is for supporters to continue to respect the social distancing guidelines, and not to attend or gather outside the stadiums.”

The League added: “The Premier League’s ambition is to complete all of our remaining fixtures this season home and away, where possible. We are working with our clubs to ensure risks are assessed and minimised, while cooperating with the police at a local and national level.

“Discussions with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and UK Football Policing Unit have been positive and are continuing. We are prepared for all outcomes and have a neutral-venue contingency.”

In other news, the Football Association has confirmed a provisional restart date for this season’s FA Cup. The quarter-finals will now take place over the weekend of June 27-28. Wembley Stadium has been lined up for the semi-finals on July 18-19, with the final given a new date of August 1.

LaLiga

LaLiga president Javier Tebas has said the top division of Spanish football could return with crowds superimposed into the stands.

Earlier this week Tebas revealed that LaLiga could resume on June 11 with the derby match between Sevilla and Real Betis. Reiterating this date today, Tebas went on to say he hopes the 2019-20 season will conclude on July 19, with the 2020-21 campaign starting on September 12.

Speaking to Spanish newspaper Marca, Tebas said: “We’ll restart, if God allows, on June 11. We’re hoping that (Real) Madrid and Barcelona pass into Phase Two (of the lockdown de-escalation plan), which is where we can play.

“There are more than 130 people at LaLiga working so that everything can be done in a new way. Travel, organisation, everything. We’re prepared and the important thing will be the day we finish the league. We’ll start next season on September 12.”

Tebas also said LaLiga is planning to give fans two options as to how they watch the closed doors games at home. He added: “Tonight, we have audiovisual tests so that the viewer can choose two images: the real one and one with a virtual crowd and crowd noise.

“We want to give the choice to the fans: silence or a simulation of the crowds. The tests I’ve seen are interesting and really catch your eye, but there will be two options.”

Allsvenskan

In Sweden, the government and Public Health Authority (FHM) have today given the go-ahead for the 2020 Allsvenskan and Superettan seasons to commence according to plan on June 14.

Svensk Elitfotboll (SEF), operating body of the top two divisions of Swedish football, last month said it planned to start its domestic season on June 14, with crowds in the stadia.

The Swedish football season was due to start at the beginning of April, but was postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. The June 14 start date has been rubber-stamped, but matches will now be held behind closed doors.

SEF general secretary Mats Enquist said: “The supporters and their commitment are the absolute best we have and the experience in the stadia will not be the same without the fans but unfortunately it is necessary at this time.

“Here again, we must make the best of the matter, but we will miss and long to again fill our stadia with a world-class atmosphere. We are grateful that all supporters have shown their willingness to accept their responsibility. There will be times when we can open up again, let’s stay together until then.”

Nemzeti Bajnokság

Nemzeti Bajnokság, the top tier of Hungarian football, will today set a first for Europe by returning fans to its stadia.

Last week, the Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) became one of the first national associations in Europe to resume its domestic football season when, on May 23, the men’s competitions which involve qualification for next season’s European club tournaments returned to action, albeit behind closed doors.

The 2019-20 Nemzeti Bajnokság campaign was initially suspended due to COVID-19 on March 16 and the league is understood to be the first on the continent to return fans mid-season. The MLSZ gave the green light to the scheme yesterday, with today’s match between the bottom two clubs, Kapsovar and ZTE, to the be the first match with fans in attendance.

Social distancing rules will apply with no more than one seat in four used, and every second row of a stand remaining empty. Kaspovar’s stadium usually holds up to 7,000 fans and league attendance averages out at 3,000.

Russian Premier League

The Russian Football Union (RFU) has reached an agreement with the state consumer health watchdog to allow fans into the Premier League’s (RPL) stadia when its 2019-20 season resumes on June 21.

The targeted return date was announced earlier this month, but at the time it was stated that matches would be held behind closed doors.

However, stadia are now set to be allowed to operate at 10% capacity, subject to sanitary conditions being met. In theory, this will allow the RPL’s largest stadium, Zenit Saint Petersburg’s Gazprom Arena, to allow 6,780 fans to attend games.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko said that the experience of the RPL’s resumption will be used to help return other sporting events.

“We will look at the experience of the RPL in order to further scale a similar package of measures to other sports competitions and return sports to our lives as quickly as possible, while taking care of the health of athletes, workers and fans,” he said, according to state news agency Tass.

Ekstraklasa

The Polish top-tier Ekstraklasa resumes today some 81 days after the competition was halted, with Śląsk Wrocław facing Raków Częstochowa behind closed doors.

However, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and national football chiefs have today outlined plans to allow clubs in the top three divisions to open their stadiums at 25% capacity from June 19.

Morawiecki said safety would be assured at stadiums through the provision of masks, disinfectant liquids and the maintenance of distance between fans. Only home fans will be allowed to attend, while tickets will be sold online to avoid grouping at stadiums.

Zbigniew Boniek, the former Juventus player who is now the president of the Polish Football Association (PZPN), told reporters: “We will be the first country to develop a protocol allowing fans to participate in football matches. Here the government strongly supported us.”

Details as to how clubs will allocate tickets have still to be announced, however most regular attendees should be able to secure seats as the stadium occupancy rate is low in Poland.

Legia Warsaw has the highest average attendance so far in 2019-20 with 20,995, but even its occupancy rate is only around two-thirds of its 31,000-capacity Polish Army Stadium. Lech Poznan’s figure is around a third of capacity while Lechia Gdansk is below a quarter.

MotoGP

Moving into motorsport, the MotoGP motorcycling championship has today announced the cancellation of this season’s British and Australian Grands Prix.

The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and resulting calendar changes have obliged the cancellation of both events. The British Grand Prix was set to take place from August 28-30 at Silverstone Circuit.

The cancellation means 2020 will be the first year MotoGP sees no track action in the UK for the first time in the championship’s more than 70-year history.

The Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix was set to take place at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit from October 23-25. Phillip Island hosted the first Australian GP in 1989 and since 1997 has been the exclusive home of MotoGP in the country.

Earlier this month, a proposal was submitted to the Spanish government that could see Jerez host two MotoGP grands prix and a World Superbike round at the end of July and the start of August.

The proposal came after MotoGP had been forced to postpone the opening 11 rounds of the season due to COVID-19. Promoter Dorna Sports is still hopeful of staging between 10 and 12 events this year, with Europe set to serve as a hub for races.

AGF Aarhus

AGF Aarhus has said nearly 10,000 fans were in ‘attendance’ as the Danish Superliga club launched its innovative Zoom venture on Thursday night.

The 2019-20 Superliga season resumed following its COVID-19 enforced suspension as AGF and Randers played out a 1-1 draw at Ceres Park.

Earlier this week, AGF said that it hoped at least 10,000 fans would be in ‘virtual’ attendance for the derby match as it invited supporters from around the world to experience the fixture live on Zoom.

As part of the initiative, fans were able to tune in to one of a number of Zoom calls, where they could interact with fellow supporters and enjoy the match. The call did not show coverage of the match itself, meaning fans required a second screen to watch the action.

In total, 22 different calls were created to replicate 22 sections of Ceres Park stadium, which has a capacity of 19,000. Screens were set up at the stadium to beam the fan footage and audio back as the match unfolded.

Speaking to TheStadiumBusiness.com today, Søren Højlund Carlsen, the club’s head of media, said: “We had almost 10,000 users, but at many homes with more than one (viewing). And yes, it was a great success with great response from the fans and media.”

Despite the risk of inappropriate behaviour from fans on the video streams, Carlsen said no fans were “kicked out” from the calls, adding that the club will continue the venture for Monday’s game against OB Odense.

Principality Stadium

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) has said the contract for Cardiff’s Principality Stadium to remain as a field hospital during COVID-19 has been extended until early autumn.

The Dragon’s Heart Hospital, with a capacity of 1,500 beds, was first opened on April 29 to help ease pressure on the NHS amid the pandemic. The initial contract with Cardiff and Vale University Health Board was due to run until July 10, but has now been lengthened through to at least September.

“We agreed with the National Health Service and Welsh Government that the contract would be extended until the early autumn, although the exact details have to be agreed to safeguard against any further uprising in the pandemic,” said WRU chairman Gareth Davies, according to the BBC.

“If there is still a demand for the hospital later in the year, there is not the likelihood of (rugby) taking place there because we are not going to be out of the woods.

“By working with the health board in having this very important standby facility, we would like to think by the end of July we would be in a clearer position (as) to how the virus is spreading or how it has been eradicated to a point.”

Image: AGF Aarhus