Italy targets quick return of football fans to stadiums

A general view of the San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy. (Shutterstock photo)
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Updated 04 June 2020

Italy targets quick return of football fans to stadiums

  • The football season has been halted since early March and until mid-May teams were not even allowed to train together

ROME: It seemed an impossible prospect just a few weeks ago in a country ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, but in Italy the idea of a return of crowds to stadiums is now being floated as the football season prepares to restart.

Since football returned in Europe last month after the virus-imposed shutdown, clubs in Germany and elsewhere have come up with innovative ideas like filling seats with cardboard cutouts of fans. In Denmark supporters watching on Zoom appeared on video screens in stadiums.

However, Hungary last weekend became the first European country to allow supporters to return to grounds, albeit in limited numbers. The only exception on the continent in the last three months has been Belarus, where football never stopped and fans kept attending games.

Bulgaria, Switzerland and others could soon follow suit, but the idea of seeing fans return to stadiums in Italy takes some getting used to.

The country has attributed over 33,000 deaths to COVID-19, one of the highest rates in the world. The football season has been halted since early March and until mid-May teams were not even allowed to train together.

Nevertheless, the season is now preparing to return on the football-mad peninsula. The final stages of the Coppa Italia will be played out next week, before Serie A resumes on June 20.

Early matches will definitely go ahead behind closed doors, but clubs and authorities have expressed a willingness to at least partially open venues to supporters before the season’s new end date of Aug. 2.

Italy’s sports press has reported that Andrea Agnelli, the highly influential president of Juventus and the powerful European Club Association, was the first to address the subject.

At a meeting of the league last week, Agnelli reportedly said he expects that “the government will authorize a partial reopening of stadiums in July.” 

Italian Football Federation President (FIGC) Gabriele Gravina then said in a radio interview on Monday that it was his “heartfelt wish to be able to see a small presence in stadiums for the end of the championship.” 

“Certainly it is premature today but with the resumption of the championship, there could be a new little signal of hope for our country,” continued Gravina.

Clubs like Genoa and Sassuolo have given their backing to the idea.

There are two sides to the argument. On the one hand, the health situation is improving, with no indication yet of a much-feared second wave.

Indeed, cinemas, theaters and theme parks will all be allowed to reopen from June 15, albeit at limited capacity and with strict social distancing rules in place.

“If there are so many things we can do while respecting social distancing, I don’t see why we couldn’t fill 10 percent of large stadiums,” said Cosimo Sibilia, who oversees the country’s amateur league.

The clubs themselves hope that figure could be increased to 20 or even 25 percent. Press reports have suggested clubs are hoping to give priority to lucrative VIP seats, while others consider holding draws or a rotation system to allow season-ticket holders to take turns at attending games.


Thomas outduels Koepka for WGC win, world No. 1 ranking

Justin Thomas
Updated 03 August 2020

Thomas outduels Koepka for WGC win, world No. 1 ranking

WASHINGTON: Justin Thomas reclaimed the world No. 1  ranking on Sunday by outdueling defending champion Brooks Koepka down the stretch to win the WGC St Jude Invitational by three strokes.

Thomas, who began the day four shots off the lead, fired a 5-under  65 final round to thwart Koepka’s repeat bid and take the title at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee, on a 72-hole total of 13-under 267.
“It means a lot, especially with how I felt like I did it,” Thomas said. “In the past, I struggled with coming from behind. I got wrapped up in how far I was behind and how many people.”
The 27-year-old American became the third-youngest US PGA Tour player in the past 60 years to reach 13 career wins, behind Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus and just ahead of Rory McIlroy.
Koepka, who seeks a third consecutive PGA Championship victory next week in San Francisco, closed with a double bogey after finding water off the 18th tee and slid into sharing second on 270 with US compatriots Daniel Berger and Phil Mickelson and England’s Tom Lewis.
Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, jumped from third past McIlroy and top-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm to retake world No. 1, a spot he held for four weeks in 2018.
“It was a hard-fought day, but it meant a lot,” Thomas said.
Three weeks ago, Thomas squandered a three-stroke lead with three holes to play, two bogeys dropping him into a playoff with Collin Morikawa that he lost.
“I feel like I learned a lot from that,” he said. “I just didn’t get ahead of myself anytime those last two, three holes, where I felt like my mind was kind of wandering and maybe thinking about winning.”
“I basically just told myself to shut up and figure out what you’re doing because I could lose that tournament just as easily as I won it.
“I was really proud of myself to stay in the moment and get it done,” he said.
A back-nine shootout saw Americans Koepka, Thomas, Berger and 54-hole leader Brendon Todd deadlocked with Lewis for the lead on 11-under, while Australian Jason Day, American Chez Reavie and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick were on 10-under.
Koepka sank a birdie putt from just inside 10 feet at the par-4 13th to seize the lead at 12-under.
Thomas found the left rough at 15 but blasted his approach to six feet and made the birdie putt to match Koepka for the lead.
Thomas then sent his tee shot way right at the par-5 16th, but recovered by blasting to the low rough just left of the fairway and dropped his approach three feet from the cup, tapping in a birdie to claim the lead alone at 13-under.
“I got unbelievably lucky,” Thomas said. “Somehow, that calmed me down. You usually only get lucky like that when you win the tournament.
“Luckily, I hung on and stayed patient and positive.”
Koepka scrambled on 16 but missed an eight-foot par putt to fall two adrift, only to sink a 40-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th to move back within a stroke as he walked to the 18th tee.
But Koepka sent his tee shot into the water and put his third into a greenside bunker, sealing the victory for Thomas.
Mickelson matched a third-place effort at Pebble Beach for his best result of the season, as the world’s top golfers set their sights on TPC Harding Park and next week’s first major tournament of a year in which COVID-19 has played havoc with the schedule.