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Italy-England Six Nations match victim of coronavirus, government orders fan shutout

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The Six Nations rugby union clash between Italy and England in Rome on March 14 has been postponed until later this year as the country continues to attempt to stem the tide of its coronavirus outbreak.

The Italian government on Wednesday evening ordered all sporting events in the country to take place without spectators and behind closed doors until April 3.

Six Nations organisers were presented with this option as well, but have chosen to reschedule the fixture for later in the year. Italy’s clash with Ireland, which had been due to take place in Dublin this weekend (March 7), has also been postponed.

There is no indication yet when the games are expected to be played, nor whether any of the other four remaining fixtures in this year’s competition – which will take place in England, France, Scotland and Wales (countries that have also seen limited outbreaks of the coronavirus) – are at risk.

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte took to Facebook to explain that the government decree on Wednesday was taken to help ensure “responsible behaviour” and “prevent further opportunities of infection.”

The move should see the resumption of Serie A fixtures this weekend after several games were postponed over the last two match days.

The calendar will be pushed back a week, with the fixtures that were delayed last week set to be rescheduled for the coming weekend, including the top-of-the-table clash between Juventus and Inter, known as the Derby d’Italia. That game is reportedly set to go ahead at 8.45pm (CET) on Sunday (March 8), according to Corriere della Sera. A revised calendar for the remainder of the season is due to be released today (Thursday).

Inter Milan’s chief executive Giuseppe Marotta said the move could be the only way of finishing the Serie A season, representing a shift in attitude by the league. After a meeting of league clubs, he said: “Playing behind closed doors could be the only way to complete the championship in the light of the emergency and the restrictions that the government is rightly adopting.

“The aim is to finish the championship as normally as possible, without creating a competitive imbalance, but as you can see the scenario is constantly changing.”

Inter Milan president Steven Zhang told the BBC: “Closing doors but continuing matches is the right thing to do.”

He explained the club’s decision to reject an offer that had been made at the weekend to play its match against Juventus on Monday with fans in attendance: “From a moral standpoint, as president of a football club and a manager in an organisation who are involved in these events, I just cannot accept this kind of proposal and I cannot let public health be put in this difficult condition.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of game it is, it doesn’t matter if it was 24 hours or 48 hours, we knew the situation was not going to be gone.

“The right thing to do was to reject the proposal. I had to do what was morally correct, even though it was difficult to say no. But we made the right choice and now people realise it was correct.”

Italy’s Davis Cup qualifier against South Korea in Cagliari this weekend will also now be played behind closed doors.

NHL restricts employee travel 

The National Hockey League is prohibiting its employees from traveling outside of North America due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Speaking at the end of league general managers meetings, commissioner Gary Bettman said league employees that travel personally to affected countries will be quarantined for two weeks before returning to work.

“If (league employees) go to a place that’s on the list of countries that have an issue, or while you’re there, that country comes on the list and then when you come back, we want you quarantined, out of the office for two weeks until we can see if symptoms develop,” Bettman said.

The commissioner, however, said it was premature to say whether the league would move to restrict fans from attending games and other league events.

“At this point, it would be premature to pick any one of the possibilities, especially because it may or may not become necessary in North America,” Bettman said. “We’re staying current, we’re staying in communication with everyone appropriate, and we’ll deal with it if and when the time comes.”

French football league extends no-handshake measures

France’s Ligue de Football Professionnel altered its pre-match protocols to minimise handshakes and other contact between players and officials.

The league banned handshakes between players in the last round of fixtures.

New guidance issued by the league said: “players and the central referee will hold mascot kids by the shoulder during the entrance of the teams.

“After the lining up of the players, they will disperse on the field.

“Handshakes between coaches, referees and delegates will be removed.”

The league has not yet imposed any other restrictions on matches taking place or spectators attending.

IOC addressing qualifiers challenge, Bach says

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said the organisations was working with international federations on solutions to the problem of cancelled events that were due to act as Tokyo 2020 qualifiers.

The Straits Times reported that Bach told a press conference: “We are facing challenges regarding the qualifications.

“But for athletes who cannot compete because of the coronavirus, we will look for a just solution with the international federations.

“This could consist of increasing the (qualification) quotas for a limited number of athletes who, according to their federations, would have qualified had they participated in the qualifying events.”

At the same media event, Bach said the IOC had not discussed cancelling or postponing Tokyo 2020 during its latest Executive Board meeting.

Torch relay to go ahead, with safety measures

Tokyo 2020 organisers said they were taking several measures to ensure the safety of the Olympic torch relay, that is to start on March 26.

Kyodo News reported that runners and spectators will be asked not to participate if they feel unwell, and to thoroughly wash their hands and be considerate of others when coughing. Alcohol disinfectants will be availble at ceremonies. Torch runners and staff will have their temperatures monitored, among other health checks.

The organisers are discussing with regional authorities and sponsor partners restrictions on some ceremonies, and spectators along the roadside may be asked “to exercise self-restraint”.

Other news

Fiba made changes to several competitions:

  • The 3×3 Olympic Qualification Tournament scheduled for Bengaluru, India from March 18 to 22, has been postponed. Fiba said it is working with the International Olympic Committee “on the best solution possible in the circumstances, considering that this tournament needs to take place before the Fiba 3×3 Universality Olympic Qualifier Tournament scheduled to be played in Budapest, Hungary, from April 24 to 26”.
  • The 3×3 Asia Cup 2020 in Changsha, China, on May 13 to 17 has been rescheduled to September 9 to 13.
  • The 3×3 U17 Asia Cup in Cyberjaya, Malaysia on June 4 to 7 has been rescheduled to October 8 to 11.
  • The U16 Asian Championship 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon on April 5 to 12 has been cancelled, as has the U16 Women’s Asian Championship 2019 in Canberra, Australia on April 5 to 10.

The Asia Sevens Invitational 2020 rugby tournament, which was to function as a test event for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics rugby sevens tournament, has been cancelled. It was scheduled to take place in Tokyo on April 25-26.

The Badminton Asia Championships has been moved from China to the Philippines. It was originally scheduled for April 21-26 in Wuhan, and will now take place on the same dates in Manila.

The Moroccan government ordered the cancellation or postponement of all international sports competitions, exhibitions and public gatherings in the country. Among the events affected is the International Judo Federation’s Judo Grand Prix scheduled for Rabat on March 6-8.

The 2020 Japan Para Wheelchair Rugby Championships on 12 to 15 March, a Tokyo 2020 test event, has been cancelled. Tokyo 2020 said it would “nevertheless carry out the wheelchair rugby test event in some form in April”.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Games in Kuwait on April 3 and 14 has been postponed to yet-to-be-confirmed dates in December, its organisers said. The games are contested by teams from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

Golf’s PGA Tour said it was not currently planning any changes to its 175-tournament calendar, although it was “closely monitoring” the epidemic. The statement referred to changes beyond those already made to the PGA Tour China-Series, in which several tournaments have been postponed or cancelled.

The International Shooting Sport Federation said its World Cup event in Delhi on March 15 to 26 will not carry ranking points because athletes from all countries cannot participate due to travel restrictions imposed because of the epidemic.

UK broadcasters the BBC and ITV are not sending staff to Italy to cover the Italy v England Six Nations match on March 14. ITV will cover the match live on television from a studio in London. The BBC is due to provide radio and highlights coverage.

The Football Association of Thailand has postponed all domestic matches until at least April 18. President Somyot Poompunmuang said that the postponement would be extended if the situation did not improve, with a decision to be made by March 31. Earlier this week, the FAT had announced that all domestic matches would be played behind closed doors. The step up to postponement was made after the Thai government stepped up measures against the epidemic.

The final baseball qualifier for Tokyo 2020, to take place in Taichung and Dou Liu in Taiwan, has been moved from April 1-5 to June 17-21.