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Serie A committed to ending season as ‘thorny’ free-to-air issue resurfaces

Stefano Okaka of Udinese competes for the ball with German Pezzella of Fiorentina during the Serie A match on March 8 (by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

Lega Serie A has maintained it is committed to completing the 2019-20 season amid Covid-19, as Italy’s Sports Minister, Vincenzo Spadafora, said he would return to the “very thorny issue” of free-to-air access to games, with matches likely to be played behind closed doors.

The Lega, organising body of the top division of Italian club football, responded yesterday (Monday) to reports that seven Serie A clubs – Brescia, Torino, Sampdoria, Udinese, SPAL, Genoa and Cagliari – did not want to resume the current season due to the risks presented in Italy.

The league issued a statement this afternoon, saying that its assembly met this morning and confirmed “by unanimous vote of all the 20 clubs by video conference the intention to complete the 2019-20 season, if the government allows it to take place, in full compliance with the rules to protect health and safety”.

Lega Serie A added: “The resumption of sporting activity, in the so-called Phase 2, as already highlighted in the past, will take place in accordance with the indications of Fifa and Uefa, the determinations of the FIGC [Italian Football Federation], as well as in accordance with medical protocols to protect the players and all the workers.”

No football has been played in Italy since March 9, with lockdown measures currently in place until May 3. Speaking on Rai’s Tg2 Post programme, Spadafora said he will meet with the FIGC tomorrow, which will present its planning for a possible resumption of football training.

He said: “I am not giving any assurances for the start of the league or training on May 4, if conditions in the country do not exist beforehand.

“Sport is not just about football and it is not only Serie A. I will assess very carefully, but this must not create the illusion that restarting training means resuming the championship.”

After lockdown measures commenced in earnest last month, the Lega and domestic rights-holder, pay-television broadcaster Sky Italia, hit out at comments by Spadafora criticising the lack of free-to-air access to behind closed doors matches amid the crisis.

Speaking yesterday, Spadafora said: “If the championship resumes, this time we will seriously consider this opportunity to broadcast the matches in the clear to guarantee all Italians the opportunity to watch games, precisely because of the social function football has.

“When I tried to do this in the period of maximum emergency, I had a heated confrontation to say the least with the CEO of Sky and the president of Lega Serie A. It is a very thorny issue – when the world of football does not want to decide for economic reasons it says it is the government that must do it; when the government intervenes… the world of football claims autonomy.”

Sky Italia stressed at the start of last month that it had made the Juventus-Inter match available on its free-to-air digital terrestrial channels TV8 and Cielo.

Sky Italia holds the rights to Serie A jointly with subscription OTT platform DAZN. The pair are in the penultimate season of their agreement with Lega Serie A. Sky holds the rights to seven of the 10 weekly fixtures, a total of 266 matches broadcast on its platforms per season. DAZN holds the rights to the remaining three matches giving it a total of 114 per season.

The deals with Sky and DAZN are worth €973m ($1.05bn) per season. Both deals are exclusive and platform neutral and run from 2018-19 to 2020-21.