The Italian top flight edged closer to resuming behind closed doors on Sunday after the country’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, gave the go-ahead for professional sports teams to resume training in May.
As part of measures to ease the national lockdown during a televised address, Conte said individual training could start on 4 May, with players still respecting social distancing rules, and that team training could begin on 18 May.
Conte said the sports minister, Vincenzo Spadafora, would work “intensively” with scientists and league officials to ensure training was safe. Conte added that the next step would be to resume sporting events behind closed doors, but did not give a potential date.
“We will try to see if they can continue with the championships that are suspended,” Conte said. “We will only reach this conclusion if it can be guaranteed that it is safe. We don’t want our athletes to get sick.”
“I’m passionate for football,” Conte added. “Like many Italians, I initially found it strange that the championship could be interrupted or suspended, but I think even the most ardent fan understands there wasn’t an alternative.”
The Italian FA (FIGC) has already drawn up a medical protocol for training. Each club will form a core group of players and staff who will be tested and then isolated in a training camp. There are also plans to donate five Covid-19 test kits for each one used by clubs.
Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and Serie A has been suspended since 9 March. Eight-time defending champions Juventus are one point clear of Lazio at the top; every team has at least 12 games left to play.
In Spain, the outlook appears less positive after the health minister, Salvador Illa, said elite sports are unlikely to return until the summer. The league has also advised clubs that player testing has been put on hold because “the resumption of training sessions is going to be delayed.”
The La Liga president, Javier Tebas, has been bullish about the need to complete the current campaign to avoid significant financial losses. The league has proposed a strict four-phase protocol to resume training, with Tebas putting forward three potential restart dates: 29 May, 7 June and 28 June.
Top-flight football has been suspended in Spain since 10 March, with the national sports ministry setting out a plan for a return to action in closed stadiums. Illa was careful not to set any date for a return during Sunday’s coronavirus briefing, perhaps signalling a shift in government strategy.
“I cannot say now if professional football will be able to restart before the summer, it would be imprudent of me,” Illa said. The health minister added that La Liga’s plans to provide daily Covid-19 tests for players would require government approval.
“There is an order from the health ministry which is in place for all types of groups, including professional football,” he said. “They have to put whatever type of diagnostic tests they have at the disposition of the regional governments.”
The Spanish footballers’ association (AFE) has written to the government to express players’ concern over tests and a resumption of training. The AFE added that players believe “there are other groups that need the tests more at this time,” and that they want the government and not the league to make key decisions.
Rafa Ramos, president of the association of Spanish football club doctors, has said that footballs and playing surfaces will have to be sterilised if matches are to resume.
“All the material, even the pitches, will have to be sterilised before a match, at halftime and afterwards,” Ramos told El Pais. “It’s possible to be infected by the ball, but when you are struck by a sterilised ball it’s very hard to get infected.”