How Serie A got Coronvirus So Wrong
Competitions around Europe are beginning to postpone games, play games behind closed doors and even suspend their seasons due to the spread of the coronavirus. The most noticeable example is the case of Italy. Serie A has suspended it's season until April 3rd as the entire country lays in quarantine and there has been more than 800 deaths.
Yet this remarkable change has come in less than a month. Remarkably, as recently as March 1st fans were still attending matches.
Still, as of March 12th, fans are attending games in the Champions League, England and elsewhere.
We spoke with Nima Tavallaey of SempreInter.com and the Serie A Show podcast about Italy's handling of the coronavirus outbreak and what these other countries and leagues can learn from their experiences.
When Italy first began reporting incidents, the Italian government placed restrictions on sporting matches in the northern region until March 1st. Serie A could either play behind closed doors or postpone the match until later.
In every instance they postponed games. Why? Because financially, the clubs and league would suffer. Fans would need refunds for their tickets and broadcasters would be upset and want their money back. That weekend (March 1st), Juventus was scheduled to host Inter Milan, a game that would have serious title implications. Juventus' owner, Andrea Agnelli, didn't want the game to be played behind closed doors.
Says Tavallaey, "€5 million is quite a bit of money that Juventus would have lost in one go. Not many companies can lose €5 million like that because they'd have to reimburse everyone who bought a ticket."
Other teams and executives made similar comments. Udinese's Director of Sport, Pierpaolo Marino, told Sky Sport Italia, "It would’ve been financially damaging, as we have 15,000 season ticket holders that wanted refunds."
Tavallaey attempts to figure out Paolo Dal Pino's (Lega Serie A president) thought process through the whole affair.
"But at the end of the day, if we just go from based on what we know, it's that a very powerful and rich person and party in Italian football, Andre Agnelli, backed up by Udinese, Milan and other clubs who had home games and didn't want to play behind closed doors, they were absolutely adamant that they did not want to lose money, and so they pushed for these games to be postponed rather than being played behind closed doors and two days after a decision had been made that they were going to be played behind closed doors and 24 hours before kickoff in all of those games, it's postponed. That doesn't look good. Those are just the facts and the optics of that are horrible.
He suggests it could've been done far differently. "I think what they should have done is stuck by their first decision. The corona virus isn't going away. I mean this is simple logic, we're talking science now. Viruses don't just disappear from one day to the next, especially before you've reached the peak outbreak, which Italy hadn't at that point. They were kind of just you know, reacting and setting things in motion to prevent the spread of this thing and they reacted too little too late, as we know now."
"But again, you have to sometimes take the heat and say that look, 'we need to play all these games behind closed doors' and not go back and forth like a yo-yo because powerful people get their feathers ruffled."
The irony is that Serie B games were being treated differently. Serie B games were played behind closed doors instead of being postponed. "That's why so many people on social media have been joking, saying that all Serie B players are immune to the coronavirus."
What did Tavallaey take away from Serie A's management of coronavirus that he would advise to England and any other country?
"I would make a decision based on public health, I would stick to it and I wouldn't back out because it doesn't look good. It makes you look like a clown. It completely invalidates every decision and authority you have, and it makes you look like a puppet. That makes people lose faith and respect for institutions. Laws and rules is a game where the currency is trust and when you misuse that trust, you end up completely destroying the system itself and that's what's happened here."