UEFA Defends Decision to Stage Atalanta v Valencia Amid Coronavirus Threat

Published March 30th, 2020 - 07:21 GMT
The president of European football's main governing body insists that all advice on Covid-19 was followed ahead of the clash in Milan
The president of European football's main governing body insists that all advice on Covid-19 was followed ahead of the clash in Milan

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has defended the decision to allow Atalanta v Valencia to go ahead as scheduled on February 19 despite the looming threat of coronavirus.

Atalanta secured a stunning 4-1 win in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie against the Spanish giants in front of 40,000 ecstatic supporters at the Giuseppe Meazza, thanks to a Hans Hateboer brace and goals from Josip Ilicic and Remo Freuler.

The joy of the occasion has faded significantly a month on, however, with the mayor of Bergamo labelling the match a “biological bomb” that could have helped to speed up the spread of Covid-19, which has caused over 10,000 deaths in Italy to date.

The second leg was played behind closed doors at an empty Mestalla on March 10 as stricter social distancing measures started to be put in place, with Atalanta earning a 4-3 victory to progress to the quarter-finals 8-4 on aggregate.

Ceferin has rejected any criticism of UEFA for failing to ensure the safety of fans in Milan last month, insisting there was no way of knowing at that stage how quickly the crisis would develop.

“On February 19, no one knew that Lombardy would be the centre of the epidemic,” the Uefa president said. “Who were we to say it shouldn’t go ahead? We followed the advice of the authorities at all times and we couldn’t do anything.”

Ceferin went on to express his belief that UEFA were also right to allow the second leg to take place without supporters, with postponements never taken lightly due to the contractural commitments involved.

“Decisions can’t be taken in a day,” he added. “There are contracts and agreements.

“Football was still being played across Europe then. The borders were still open when Valencia and Atalanta played. Gatherings of fans outside the stadium was the responsibility of the Spanish authorities.”

All Champions League and Europa League fixtures were pushed back the week after Atalanta's victory in Spain, with major leagues across the continent shutting up shop in compliance with new government rules.

This summer's European Championships and the Copa America have been rescheduled for next year, and it is not yet known for certain whether the 2019-20 campaign will reach its natural conclusion.

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