The Italian government has ruled out team training before May 18, leaving Serie A chiefs with their backs against the wall if they are to finish a season interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Sunday delayed a decision on restarting soccer, despite allowing top athletes to resume training in a week’s time.
From Monday next week, individual athletes are to be allowed to resume training, but for team sports, in particular soccer, it remains a waiting game, in a championship suspended since March 9.
Cyclist Vincenzo Nibali would be able to resume his usual training, but Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus would not.
Italian Minister for Sport Vincenzo Spadafora was cautious.
“It’s not a given that soccer will resume,” Spadafora told Italian television. “On May 18? We will see. For team sports, such as soccer, rigid safety protocols are needed.”
Spadafora spoke of “shortcomings” in the health and safety protocol presented last week by Italian Football Federation (FIGC) officials.
FIGC president Gabriele Gravina on Monday said that they “working to restart soccer safely,” warning of the damage that not finishing the season would entail.
“We’re working tirelessly to define the best conditions for the completion of the suspended championships, responsibly planning all the steps to be taken, but also to define the various scenarios,” Gravina said.
For the Italian sports media the government’s announcement was “a cold shower,” in the words of Turin-based Tuttosport.
“Two-speed recovery,” wrote Gazzetta dello Sport of pushing a decision on team sports back, while Corriere dello Sport branded it “a joke.”
SS Lazio sports director Igli Tare said that soccer clubs felt like they were being “discriminated” against.
Lazio are second in the Serie A table, just one point behind leaders Juventus and within sight of their first league title since 1999-2000.
“It is news that I did not expect,” Lazio midfielder Marco Parolo said. “I don’t understand why we soccer players with a suitable sports center can’t resume our sessions normally. You can go running in the parks, but it doesn’t make sense if I have a suitable sports center to do it.”
“Formello [Lazio’s training center] is equipped with five pitches,” Parolo said. “By splitting up, we can avoid contact and we can vary the schedules of individual sessions. We respect the indications of the government, but all the conditions are there to be able to resume training safely.”
Italian soccer heads had pushed back the end of the Serie A season from June 30 to August 2.
The FIGC’s objective of a return to competition in early June has become impracticable, shifting the date toward June 10 to June 14.
With at least three weeks of preparation needed — and, in some cases, 13 rounds to be played — it would be impossible to play all of the remaining matches.
Another solution being touted would be a playoff to allocate the scudetto, and qualifying places for European competition and relegation places.
“This yes, I would accept it,” Lazio president Claudio Lotito told La Repubblica.
Any change of format would have to be communicated to UEFA by May 25 at the latest.
Serie A’s 20 clubs have voted unanimously to complete the league season, but the final decision is to be made by the government.
However, in a soccer-mad country, clubs might not be able to count on the support of a public grieving over those killed by the coronavirus, with polls suggesting that two-thirds of Italians are opposed to a return to the pitch.
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