Infantino: Soccer without fans no long-term virus solution

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A Bulgarian soccer team Ludogorets staffer disinfects his hands on a coach bus heading to the San Siro stadium Milan, Italy, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. Ludogorets is playing Italian club Inter Milan in a Europa League soccer match on Thursday that is scheduled to go ahead in an empty stadium due to the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Playing soccer matches in the long term without fans is unsustainable, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Friday as a fast-spreading new virus caused havoc with sporting events.

For the second successive weekend, some matches in Italy — including one between title rivals Juventus and Inter Milan — will be played in empty stadiums in a bid to stop the virus spreading.

“I don't think it is sustainable in the long term to play behind closed doors,” Infantino said ahead of a meeting of soccer's lawmakers in Northern Ireland. "Every competition organizer ultimately has to decide what is best for him.

“Obviously, on the short term it can be a solution (to play without fans) in order to move on. But you cannot imagine a few months of a competition being played, several matches being played, behind closed doors.”

The next set of international men's fixtures are in March, including Italy playing a friendly in England. Italy's rugby games in Ireland that were scheduled for next weekend have already been called off after a request from the Dublin government.

“I wouldn’t exclude anything at this moment,” Infantino said when asked if the March international games can be played. “I hope we will never have to get into this direction. ... We cannot underestimate and say it’s nothing but we don’t have to overreact and panic. We have to follow the instructions given by the authorities."

For now, games will go on in the world's most lucrative and watched soccer league, but English Premier League clubs are wary of the COVID-19 virus.

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce said on Friday his players were no longer greeting each other with handshakes at the training ground, under medical advice.