Italy, the first European country
forced to shut down soccer activity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has formulated plans to ease restrictions on individual movement.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has set May 4 as a key date, affecting everything from business and family gatherings to sports activities.
Factories, building sites and wholesalers will be allowed to reopen while retail stores will reopen two weeks later. Family visits will be allowed as long as everyone abides by social distancing and wears protective masks. The size of the gatherings will be limited to 15 people present.
On May 18, museums, art galleries and libraries will reopen though schools remain closed for the year.
Sports will resume in two phases. Individuals will be allowed to train on their own as of May 4 as long as they maintain social distancing guidelines. Teams can start group training two weeks later.
If all goes well, Serie A games might return behind closed doors in June.
A lot of questions remain, though, in a country hit hard by the pandemic. As of Sunday, there have been 26,644 deaths in Italy (second in the world behind only the USA) and 197,675 cases of the coronavirus (second in the world behind only the USA and Spain).
Conte said the next step will be for Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora and the Italian federation (FIGC) to agree on guidelines they will use to determine if play can resume and protocols that must be followed. The Corriere della Sera reported that only three out of 20 Serie A clubs – Juventus, Lazio and Genoa – signed off on the initial protocols the FIGC sent to Spadafora.
“There needs to be a gradual return and it requires a rigid protocol,” Spadafora said. “The FIGC presented a protocol and the technical-scientific commission said it wasn’t sufficient yet. It needs more analysis and only after that analysis can we say if the season will resume or not.”
The Conte government recognizes how important the return of soccer would be -- even behind closed doors -- in Italy, like in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet on Thursday to consider -- but likely hold off giving final approval on -- the plan for the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga to resume in May,
“Being a big soccer fan like so many Italians, at the start it seemed strange to me that the season could be interrupted and suspended,” Conte said. “But obviously, we found ourselves involved in this health, social and economic emergency. And I think everyone, even the most ardent fans, understood that there wasn’t any alternative.”
The first Serie A games to be postponed were four games in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, the epicenter of the outbreak in Italy. That was on Feb. 23, two days after the first two COVID-19-related deaths were confirmed. Play was halted across Italy after games on March 8-9 were played behind closed doors.
Twelve games remain to be played in Serie A -- plus the four makeup games from Feb. 23 -- as well as the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals and the final.
Atalanta has advanced to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League while Juventus and Napoli must play the second leg of their round-of-16 series. Inter Milan and Roma are still alive in the Europa League.
“We’re big fans of sports and we want well for all of our idols,” Conte said. “We certainly don’t want them to get sick.”