Before December 2019, the name Corona was likely to evoke images of tropical waters, inviting beaches and delicious memories of that golden, carbonated elixir that promises to take you “Miles Away From Ordinary.” Flash forward four months later, and instead of invoking feelings of relaxation, the name Corona has now become a harbinger of fear and sickness.
COVID-19, more commonly known as Coronavirus, has literally brought much of the world to a standstill. News platforms around the globe have become inundated with stories detailing the virus’s devastation, and with more than 125,000 people affected in more than 100 nations, the panic seems well warranted.
Like most sport competitions worldwide, the Premier League and EFL are starting to be directly affected. Expert medical advisors are working closely with Public Health England to monitor the situation, desperately trying to stay ahead of the virus and prevent contributing to any further spread.
Already in other parts of Europe there have been postponements, matches taking place behind closed doors, and even travel bans preventing teams from attending away matches. Italy’s Serie A has been suspended until 3 April, and alternative options are currently being discussed in the event that the season cannot be resumed at all. Spain’s La Liga announced that the next two rounds of fixtures will be closed to the public, including Barcelona’s Champions League match against Napoli on 18 March. This will be the second Spanish-Italian Champions League fixture at which supporters were banned, already having been in effect for Valencia versus Atalanta on Tuesday. In fact, all sport in Italy has been suspended until at least 3 April, including Serie A- but not Italian clubs or national teams participating in international competitions. The Italian national football team is currently scheduled to play a friendly against Germany in Nuremberg at the end of March, but will be played behind closed doors.
Juventus defender Daniele Rugani, recently tested positive for Coronavirus, and is the first player from the club with a confirmed diagnosis. The Bianconeri’s had stopped all training last month after the Under-23s played Pianese, who only days later confirmed that three of their players and their manager had contracted the illness. Rugani was said to be asymptomatic, but is currently quarantined following the isolation procedures of the club and public health laws. In Germany, Hanover 96 recently revealed that second division player Timo Huebers was the first player to test positive. Though, they insisted no further infections were expected, as Huebers was fortunate to avoid contact with any colleagues.
In France, government officials announced a ban on any gatherings with more than 1,000 people (rendering Ligue 1 matches practically fan-less). Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn called for a similar action, effectively foretelling there would be near-empty stadiums at future Bundesliga matches. Five of the nine top-flight Bundesliga matches will take place behind closed doors over the weekend, as will the second leg of Chelsea’s Champions League last-16 showdown against Bayern Munich on 18 March at Allianz Stadium.
The English Premier League is currently functioning quite normally compared to the rest of Europe, though safety precautions have been implemented and are likely to increase. The ceremonial pre-match handshake has been banned, and Arsenal’s match at Manchester City (supposed to have taken place on Wednesday) was postponed following concerns that Arsenal players who came into contact with the owner of Greek club Olympiakos, Vangelis Marinakis, were at risk considering Marinakis has since tested positive for COVID-19. This officially marked the first Premier League postponement due to the virus. The Premier League and EFL are yet to officially ban supporters from matches, however, and stated: “There is presently no rationale to close or cancel sporting events but this may change as the situation evolves.”
Concerns are mounting about whether the league will even be able to conclude, but Uefa and all the other leagues contend that they do not need to start planning for this worst case scenario, yet. In the event that leagues cannot complete their seasons, Uefa will look to coordinate calendars to reschedule matches, and try to work with the leagues to minimize the financial and sporting impacts that will undoubtedly ensue. Should a player fall ill and test positive for COVID-19, officials have decreed that individual matches may be postponed, and measures should be taken by the club to ensure the safety and health of players and staff, first-and-foremost.
Arguably most concerning for many fans, however, is if Liverpool can be awarded the Premier League trophy before the end of the season. Fortunately, for all fans who don’t support the Reds, the league is currently not planning to distribute the prize early. But, it’s not been completely ruled out, and may become a viable option should the situation become even more critical.
Though the Coronavirus started out as another seemingly “foreign” illness, it has now- without a doubt -pervaded and disrupted much of the world. Health officials warn that this is not simply a fleeting storm humanity must weather- the virus is likely to fester and spread for months to come. How it will affect football in, both in England and worldwide, remains an ominous question mark at this time. But when human lives are at stake, football rivalries must be cast aside, and a collective effort to save each other and our loved ones, becomes paramount.