“The health of persons is much more important than any football game,” said FIFA president Gianni Infantino, as he arrived in Belfast on Friday for this weekend’s annual general meeting of the rule-making International Football Association Board.
He refused to rule out postponing international football matches in response to the escalating global threat of the coronavirus. This weekend’s matches in the leading two divisions in Switzerland, where football’s global governing body FIFA has its headquarters, were postponed on Friday after the government banned all events involving more than a thousand people.
Meanwhile five Serie A games in Italy will be played behind closed doors, with leagues in Japan and South Korea postponed earlier this week. While hopeful that next month’s international friendlies will go ahead, Infantino added: “I wouldn’t exclude anything at this moment. I hope we will never have to get into this direction. I think it will be difficult in any case to make a global ban because the situation is really different.”
The new coronavirus has caused fixture delays across sport, with Ireland’s Six Nations rugby union international at home to Italy, scheduled for March 7, postponed and no new date confirmed. In Asia, the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai, due to take place on April 19, has been postponed because of the virus while athletics’ World Indoor Championships, scheduled to take place in the Chinese city of Nanjing next month, have been held over until 2021. The outbreak could yet threaten the continent-wide Euro 2020 football championships starting in June and the Tokyo Olympics, due to get underway in July.
WADA Cancels its Annual Symposium
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has cancelled its annual symposium and related athlete session in Switzerland over concerns about the coronavirus epidemic. In a statement issued on Friday, Montreal-based WADA said it took the decision based on the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health’s announcement banning large-scale gatherings of more than 1,000 people in Switzerland until March 15.
The symposium and athlete meeting had been scheduled for March 17-19 at the SwissTech Convention Center in Lausanne.
The Agency commits to ensuring that most of the elements of the Symposium program are delivered via alternative means over the coming weeks and months.
On Friday, the World Health Organization raised its global risk assessment of the new coronavirus to its highest level after the epidemic spread to sub-Saharan Africa and markets slumped. It has killed more than 2,800 people and infected more than 84,000 worldwide the majority in China since it emerged apparently from an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December. The virus has wreaked havoc on the Asian sporting calendar and led to a temporary suspension of testing by the China Anti-Doping Agency, which was scheduled to resume testing in China this week on a phased basis.