It’s official — no more soccer from Europe’s top leagues until further notice. The beautiful game, as it’s known around the world, has been brought to a halt due to the recent spread of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus.
On March 13, the World Health Organization declared Europe the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement sparked a panic among many of Europe’s biggest venues, including the 12 cities that were set to host this year’s European Championship, the European competition akin to the World Cup. The European Championship is now scheduled to be held in June and July of 2021.
On March 11, the Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund was played without fans. To see players like Neymar or Kylian Mbappé, widely considered two of the top five players in the world, play in an empty stadium was telling of the gravity of the pandemic spreading across Europe — no, the world.
But the show must go on.
Spanish club Valencia also played Italian club Atalanta in front of an empty stadium, which for the third largest city in Spain, speaks volumes of the panic caused by the virus. In Spain, soccer is their everything. Valencia has since announced that 35% of its team has tested positive for COVID-19. It is unknown whether they contracted the disease in the period between Valencia’s initial Feb. 19 game against Atalanta in a high-risk part of Italy or after the subsequent game behind closed doors.
In the Europa League, Europe’s second biggest competition, Manchester United walked away with a 5-0 win against Austrian team LASK. The Red Devils aren’t used to seeing empty stands or having their voices echo on live broadcast. But these voices resonated differently with viewers, because whether it be in Austria or Paris, soccer this week was exposed to a harsh truth — health comes first, everything else second.
Eventually, due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the threat that it poses in densely populated spaces such as soccer stadiums, Europe’s top leagues made the decision to go from holding games in empty stadiums to completely suspending their seasons. It remains worrying that the Champions League game between Liverpool and Spanish club Atlético de Madrid went ahead in a packed stadium, with Spain having over 9,400 confirmed diagnoses as of March 16.
For the casual viewer, watching grown men kick a ball into a net and earn millions of dollars is just another game. But for the die-hard fan, it’s life. And to be held in soccer purgatory until further notice is mindnumbing torture, solitary confinement — an isolation that, like Italian league star Paulo Dybala recently discussed on social media, might be the bitter pill to swallow that will get the soccer world out of this pandemic.
Dybala’s COVID-19 test came back negative, but his Juventus teammate Daniele Rugani tested positive on March 11. Fellow Italian national teammates Manolo Gabbiadini and Patrick Cutrone also tested positive for the disease.
As a reactionary measure, Juventus sent their squad into quarantine. Global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t come back to Italy, one of the world’s epicenters for COVID-19, and is instead staying in his native Portugal.
Ronaldo posted on social media yesterday about the disease, saying, “Protecting human life must come above any other interests. I would like to send my solidarity and continued support to the amazing health professionals putting their own lives at risk to help save others.”
Lionel Messi, the most known player in the world besides Ronaldo, also tweeted #QuedateEnCasa — #StayAtHome. “It’s the moment to be responsible and stay home, and enjoy time with those we can’t always see,” Messi wrote on Facebook.
As global icons and influencers, Ronaldo and Messi are using their fame as a means of raising awareness about COVID-19. Not every league is abiding by this mindset.
England’s Premier League was originally willing to continue playing games — albeit in empty stadiums. It was only until after Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta tested positive for the virus that the Premier League suspended its games until further notice.
England national team star Callum Hudson-Odoi also tested positive for COVID-19, while English clubs Manchester City, Leicester City and Everton are also self-quarantining some of their players with possible symptoms.
The delayed decision to suspend the season raised concerns as to whether the Premier League was prioritizing business over health.
The Premier League is aiming to “reschedule the displaced fixtures,” while the Football Association, England’s main soccer organ, said, “All parties are committed at this time to trying to complete this season’s domestic fixture program.” The Premier League will be suspended until April 4 at the earliest.
High-profile sporting figures contracting the disease has alerted civilians about how inevitable it truly can be, but the only thing spreading faster than COVID-19 is the misinformation on who has contracted it.
Soccer fans can ensure they don’t fall victim to deception and fake news by remaining informed through reliable news outlets and social media.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts the COVID-19 epidemic will continue to spread across Europe. Until then, no soccer until further notice.
The weekly Christmas of kids, teens and adults has been put on hold. All we can hope is that the skies clear, and we can play on.
This article is the first in a 4-part series about coronavirus in the sports world. Don’t miss the other three throughout this week.