Italy Lockdown Stops Serie A In Country’s Longest Day

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that Italy will be in a total lockdown until at least April 3 to contain the coronavirus outbreak – extending to the whole country the extreme measures originally announced yesterday for 14 provinces only.

The drastic decision came at the end of a chaotic day which saw the death toll due to COVID-19 epidemics in Italy rise to 463, and several prison riots across the whole country taking place – after visitors were banned in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus – resulting in 7 additional casualties.

People across the Peninsula will not be allowed to leave their residence if not under very special circumstances. The restriction – it goes without saying – also applies to any sports activity, especially the Serie A and its quarrelsome, hesitant world.

The PM’s announcement followed an earlier statement by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) Giovanni Malagó, who earlier in the afternoon had called for a suspension of all competitions at the end of an emergency meeting held with representatives from all the Italian team sports federations.

Malagó thus took a decision which the world of football had been hesitant to take yesterday in a surreal day which saw four Serie A games, including the decisive Derby d’Italia, taking place behind closed doors in a spectral atmosphere.

The different bodies of the Italian football management – The Football Federation, the Serie A League, the Italian Players Union – spent the day arguing among themselves and with the Italian Ministry of Sports, accusing each other of a surreal lack of decisionism which did no good to the calcio world.

Uncertainty had climaxed at 12.30 PM on Sunday, when Parma and SPAL were set to kick off the day and, instead, were hastily called back to the locker rooms. A heated conversation between Italian Minister of Sports Vincenzo Spadafora and the Lega Serie A representatives was taking place, with the Minister pushing for an immediate stop to all competitions – mirroring a decision already taken by the governing bodies of basket and volleyball, among others.

Parma and SPAL were about to set foot on the pitch as they were suddenly called back to the changing rooms – a clear sign of the uncertainty that haunted the Italian football world yesterday (Photo: EPA)

Spadafora was backed up by Italian Players Union’s President Damiano Tommasi, who had been very vocal about calling for a halt and gone as far as threatening a strike. And while the Italian Football Federation and his President Gabriele Gravina basically decided not to decide – though declaring themselves open to stop the games – the Serie A League retorted that it was up to the Italian Government, and not themselves, to make a decision.

The stalemate was eventually unlocked as the five games in the program (four yesterday, and one today) did take place, but an emergency meeting of the Italian Football Federation board was scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the situation further and come up with an aligned standpoint.

There would be no need for that, however, as CONI President Giovanni Malagó moved faster and took the matter in his own hands this afternoon, even before PM Giuseppe Conte’s announcement of Italy’s dramatic lockdown: No football until April 3, with the exception of International matches. (which means that next Thursday’s Europa League game between Inter and Getafe is – for the time being – confirmed)

The last Serie A game, played earlier in the afternoon, was Sassuolo-Brescia, with the Neroverdi taking over the Rondinelle 3-0. After scoring the first goal, Sassuolo’s Francesco Caputo run to the dugout and fetched a banner, which he showed to a TV camera.

The banner’s message was touching, emotional, and probably one of the most reasonable things heard in Italy in these past few days:

“Everything will be alright. Please stay home.”    

In a moment where skepticism and recklessness are starting to leave room to panic, perhaps this is all we need to be told. It’s going to be OK.

Italy and calcio will come out of this stronger, but now it’s time to follow the authorities’ instructions and wait for the storm to pass.