Coronavirus fears see Ligue 1, Champions League games limit fan attendence

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With Italy’s league games in chaos and uncertainty, France has issued Europe’s next strongest response to the increased coronavirus fears as Ligue 1 has moved to limit all league games through mid-April to 1,000 fans in attendence.

The league’s Minister for Sport Roxana Maracineanu made the final announcement Monday immediately after a meeting called to discuss the situation. As of the announcement Monday morning, France has seen 1,116 confirmed cases of the coronavirus COVID-19 with 19 people killed. French Health Minister, Olivier Veran, banned all gatherings of people totaling more than 1,000 individuals.

The decision means that affected games will include the Coupe de la Ligue final on April 4 between Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon, while PSG’s visit to Marseille on March 22 in league play is also part of the process. PSG saw its match this past weekend against Strasbourg postponed due to the virus “following an order from the Bas-Rhin authorities.”

In addition, PSG announced that its Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund this Wednesday in Paris will be played behind closed doors. The decision was made by the Paris Police despite PSG’s attempts to mass sanitize the Parc des Princes stadium in an effort to get approval for fans to attend. The leader of the PSG ultras called the decision “catastrophic” citing the need to provide a hostile environment for the visiting Dortmund players like the one PSG faced at Westfalenstadion in the first leg. Dortmund won the first leg 2-1 to secure a slight advantage heading into the match in Paris.

Elsewhere, Tottenham’s Champions League visit to RB Leipzig will go on “as planned” after the German club announced that while they are “in close contact with health authorities,” at this point “fans being able to enjoy the match in the ground.” Spurs lost 1-0 at home in the first leg on a penalty by Timo Werner.

The other Champions League Round of 16 fixture scheduled for Tuesday, the match between Valencia and Atalanta in Spain, will also be played behind closed doors, it was announced towards the end of last week. Atalanta hails from the Lombardy region of Italy, which has been one of the hardest hit regions in Europe. Valencia trails the tie 4-1 after a first-leg demolition at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia a few weeks ago.

The coronavirus caused absolute chaos in Serie A over the weekend, with the Sunday morning match between Parma and SPAL in Emilia-Romagna delayed for over an hour after word came down just minutes before kickoff that the season could potentially be cancelled. Players were in the tunnel about to walk out onto the field when the referee halted the match to receive word from Serie A officials on the status of the campaign after Italy’s minister for sport Vincenzo Spadafora called for suspension of play. After a 75 minute delay, the game went on.

All Serie A matches through April 3 are being played behind closed doors, including the rescheduled fixture Sunday between Juventus and Inter Milan which saw Juve win 2-0 to regain its lead atop the table by a point over Lazio.

British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced Monday morning that there will be no disruptions to Premier League activity as of now due to coronavirus fears. “At this stage we’re not in the territory of cancelling or postponing events,” Dowden said. “I was at Twickenham [for England v. Wales rugby match] with the Prime Minister [on Saturday],” he said. “There was a huge crowd of people there. There is no reason why people should not be going to those events. It is very premature to be talking about things like that.” Dowden added this decision came based on advice from health experts, notably the chief medical officer.