Just one club being hit by the coronavirus outbreak would make the Scottish football season “very difficult” to complete, the Scottish Professional Football League’s chief executive Neil Doncaster has said.
Doncaster’s statement followed the announcement that England’s final Guinness Six Nations match against Italy in Rome on March 14 was the latest sporting event to be postponed due to the spread of Covid-19.
Following discussions with the Scottish Government, Scottish football’s Joint Response Group updated its members on the latest situation just hours before the first death in the United Kingdom of a patient diagnosed with the illness was confirmed.
The Scottish football authorities have announced a joint approach to addressing the implications of the coronavirus outbreak.
— SPFL (@spfl) March 2, 2020
Given the limitations of the fixture calendar, a view was taken that the SPFL and Scottish FA should “endeavour to complete the season and fulfil their obligations under their broadcasting agreements”.
However, SPFL boss Doncaster warned a change in the circumstances could have a major impact on the remainder of the campaign.
He said: “We are taking a pragmatic approach to the current situation and have alerted our members to the fact that, if the outbreak affects the first team of even one SPFL club, it could make completing the SPFL season very difficult, so first-team players and staff should be extremely vigilant.
“Whilst the current, clear advice is that matches should proceed as scheduled, we will obviously prepare for contingencies where matches might have to be played behind closed doors, or even be cancelled, as we have already seen with other major sporting events.
“With that in mind, we have alerted the Scottish Government to the dire financial consequences facing clubs if the current situation changes and clubs are unable to generate revenue from ticket sales.”
The coronavirus outbreak continues to impact on sporting events around the world.
Premier League Everton’s chief finance officer Sasha Ryazantsev told the FT Business of Football Summit in London that fans would understand why matches were needed to be played behind closed doors or postponed if such a decision was taken because of the outbreak.
“The whole situation goes far beyond the world of sport. Of course nobody wants to play behind closed doors and I don’t think it’s inevitable at the moment that it will happen,” Ryazantsev said.
“But we feel it is quite likely it may happen in the coming weeks. If it were to happen, it’s not about the money but looking after our supporters. I believe they would understand that.”
In recent weeks, there has been a rise of confirmed COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) cases around the world.
We have several new measures in place across LFC operations to help prevent the spread of the virus and protect the health of our employees.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 5, 2020
Meanwhile, Merseyside neighbours Liverpool announced a raft of measures, including a decision not to use on-pitch mascots at games, aimed at protecting staff and spectators.
In addition, the Premier League has abandoned its traditional fair play handshake before matches until further notice on medical advice.
A statement said: “The Premier League fair play handshake will not take place between players and match officials from this weekend until further notice based on medical advice.
“Coronavirus is spread via droplets from the nose and mouth and can be transmitted on to the hands and passed on via a handshake.
“Clubs and match officials will still perform the rest of the traditional walk-out protocol ahead of each fixture.”
The EFL, meanwhile, remains in close contact with the Government regarding the ongoing concerns posed by coronavirus.
“We will continue that dialogue, alongside monitoring the advice issued by the relevant authorities, ensuring clubs are updated with any developments,” an EFL statement read.
However, Scotland’s chief medical officer has insisted scientific evidence suggests mass gatherings, particularly those held outdoors, are unlikely to result in the virus being passed on.
Speaking at Murrayfield ahead of Scotland’s Six Nations clash with France, Dr Catherine Calderwood said: “I’ve looked at the scientific evidence very carefully, and what’s emerging is that there’s actually very little impact on virus spread from mass gatherings, particularly if they are in the open air. This is not a risk to the Scottish population in hosting this match.”
England’s match against Italy in Rome could have been played behind closed doors, but tournament organisers chose instead to reschedule the fixture for later in the year, which will also be the case for the Ireland-Italy game due to be played this weekend.
The accompanying Italy versus England fixtures for the women and under-20s have also been called off with the Italian government having announced that all sporting events in the country would not be open to the public until April 3 in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus.
FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation will provide an update on qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup in the coming days following consultation with the AFC member associations.
Unfortunately, due to the various travel issues caused by the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the MENA Tour by Arena has decided to postpone the remainder of our 2020 season to September-December. We will post the new schedule as soon as possible. pic.twitter.com/oMJAZHWtYY
— MENA Tour (@theMENATour) March 5, 2020
The Rugby Football League has advised clubs “there is presently no rationale to close or cancel sporting events in this country – although clearly this may change as the situation evolves”.
The two fixtures in France this weekend will go ahead as planned.
Golf, meanwhile, continues to be badly affected by the spread of the virus, with the MENA Tour pushing the rest of this season’s tournaments back until September-December, while the Asian Tour’s Royal’s Cup 2020 scheduled for March 12-15 in Thailand has been postponed indefinitely.
In cycling, The CCC and Astana Pro teams have followed Team Ineos and Mitchelton-Scott in withdrawing from races due to coronavirus.