Virus in Italy affects Olympic meetings, soccer games
ROME -- The first board meeting for the Milan-Cortina Olympics was changed to a video conference Monday as authorities sought to contain a spreading virus that has made northern Italy the focal point of the outbreak in Europe.
Instead of meeting in Milan, members of the newly created board of directors for the 2026 Games were calling in from their respective offices in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, the areas hardest hit by the virus, the Italian Olympic Committee said.
Meanwhile, sports authorities were holding emergency meetings to decide when -- and if -- games in Italy's top soccer league could be held behind closed doors next weekend.
"Playing all sports behind closed doors for the next week could be possible, because then fans can more easily stay at home," said Maurizio Casasco, the president of the Italian federation for sports physicians. "But the clubs have to be in agreement.
"There's more than just soccer in Italy. It's an issue that regards all sports."
Four Serie A games scheduled for the previous round on Sunday were postponed, including Inter Milan's game against Sampdoria at the San Siro Stadium.
There are also concerns over Inter's Europa League match against Ludogorets, with the second leg scheduled for Thursday in Milan. The Bulgarian side has written to UEFA to request more information about the situation.
Juventus, which is based in Turin, is scheduled to host Inter next Sunday in the return of former coach Antonio Conte. Other games scheduled for northern Italy next weekend include Udinese-Fiorentina on Saturday and AC Milan-Genoa on Sunday.
Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago said Sunday that playing games behind closed doors was "problematic." However, it may be the only solution for now.
With fewer concerns in southern Italy, Napoli's Champions League match against Barcelona on Tuesday was slated to be played as planned.
At least 190 people in Italy's north have tested positive for the virus and four people have died, including an 84-year-old man who died overnight in Bergamo. But officials still haven't pinpointed the origin of the contagion, which by Monday had spread to more than a half-dozen regions and prompted Austria to temporarily halt rail traffic across its border with Italy.
While Italian authorities closed schools, theatre performances and even Venice's famed Carnival, they also sought to calm fears by noting the virus' low mortality rate compared to the seasonal flu. The four people who died were elderly and two of them had other serious ailments.
The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that "for now" next weekend's World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d'Aosta region were still to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already cancelled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.
Women's super-G and Alpine combined are scheduled for next Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The Italian federation said it is "in constant contact with the authorities" over the developing situation.
Italy is also slated to host the World Cup ski finals in Cortina d'Ampezzo from March 18-22.