Spanish club Getafe refuses to play game in Italy amid virus

MADRID (AP) — The president of Spanish soccer club Getafe said his team will not travel to Italy to play Inter Milan in the Europa League on Thursday because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Ángel Torres said he does not want to risk his players' health by traveling to an area struggling to contain the spread of the virus. He also said he was concerned the team would not be able to return to Spain because of travel restrictions.

“If we are eliminated because of that, so be it,” Torres told Spanish radio station Onda Cero late Tuesday. “I'm not going to be the one taking any risks. I'm not going to go to a place where I don't want to go.”

The spreading virus has affected sports around the world, forcing many professional soccer games in Europe to be played in empty stadiums and canceling dozens of other events from tennis to gymnastics. It's also put into question whether Tokyo will be able to host the Olympics in July and August.

Torres' comments came after a joint statement by the Italian and Spanish players' associations asking UEFA to suspend matches featuring clubs from those countries. They said the games should be played only when safety conditions are more appropriate.

Spanish club Sevilla is hosting Roma in the Europa League on Thursday. Italian club Atalanta played in an empty stadium in Valencia in a Champions League match on Tuesday, winning 4-3 and advancing to the competition's quarterfinals.

On Tuesday, Spain announced that all sports events with a significant number of people must be played without fans, while Italy on Monday suspended all sporting events until April 3. Italy is the country with most coronavirus cases in Europe, and Spain this week reported a sharp increase in cases.

Spanish authorities closed schools and halted direct flights to and from Italy, though charter flights apparently could be used by teams.

The Italian soccer federation ordered Italy's women's team to return home before the end of the Algarve Cup tournament in Portugal fearing it would not be able to get a flight back. On Wednesday, the Portuguese soccer federation canceled the final between Italy and Germany.

Torres said he spoke to Inter officials and was told the Italian club recognized it didn't make sense for Getafe to play the match in Italy.

The statement by the players' associations said the situation in Europe required “tough” and “inevitable” measures.

“Playing a match in Italy, where Getafe and Sevilla would need to go, will jeopardize the health of many players,” the statement said. “The risks of playing matches in Italy and Spain are more than evident.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus.

Greek club Olympiakos is expected to play its Europa League match against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Thursday despite owner Evangelos Marinakis saying he has tested positive for the disease.

In Germany, officials in Frankfurt gave the go-ahead to have fans at Eintracht Frankfurt's Europa League game against Basel on Thursday, but not for the Bundesliga game on Sunday against Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Basel previously said it won't be able to host the return game against Eintracht amid concerns over the virus.

Elsewhere, the International Gymnastics Federation said it was postponing next week's World Cup event in Doha until June. The competition was part of the Olympic qualifying series for the apparatus events. The federation said it was also postponing a rhythmic gymnastics World Cup event and a trampoline World Cup event. Both were due to be held in Italy next month.

Turkish Youth and Sports Minister Muharrem Kasapoglu said the country is postponing sports competitions that were scheduled for March and April but soccer league games "will continue as planned" with fans in attendance.

Turkey is due to host the Champions League final in Istanbul on May 30.


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