Will soccer cause the coronavirus to spread to central France?

Italy is the European nation most affected by the coronavirus, so far. As of two days ago, more than 2,000 cases and seven deaths had been confirmed. Reportedly, a dozen towns, including Milan and Venice, have been placed on lockdown. Travel is permitted neither in nor out.

Last Sunday, the two top-league soccer matches scheduled in northern Italy — one in Milan, the other in Bergamo — were postponed. Matches in Rome and Naples proceeded as planned.

This coming weekend, five of the ten scheduled matches will be played behind closed doors in empty stadiums. One of them — the match between Inter Milan and Juventus — might well determine who wins the 2019-20 Italian championship.

How, then, to explain the fact that Juventus fans were allowed to travel to Lyon, France on Wednesday to attend a Champions League match? Based in Turin, Juventus is a northern Italian club. And, as noted, its match against Inter Milan, scheduled for Turin, is one of the contests no fans will be permitted to see in person. Yet, 3,000 Juventus fans were allowed to enter France and mingle with French fans in Lyon.

The day before the match the Lyon team released this statement:

Olympique Lyonnais have taken note of the French authorities’ decision to keep the OL/Juventus match scheduled for tomorrow night at Groupama Stadium in its original configuration [in other words with Juventus fans permitted entry].

As a reminder, the match will be sold out, so only Lyon and Italian supporters with tickets will be allowed to access the stadium.

The words “Italian supporters” are apt. Juventus has supporters all over Italy, especially in the north.

Olivier Veran is the French Minister of Solidarity and Health. He assumed this position one week before “French authorities” made the decision to allow Juventus supporters into France. Veran is 39 years old.

He defended the decision this way:

Should we ban gatherings? Should we stop the (Paris) Fashion Week? Should we stop matches? Should we close universities? The answer is no.

This may be the answer, but these are not the questions. No one is saying that France should ban gatherings or cancel football matches. The question is whether Italian fans who are not permitted to attend matches in Italy due to concerns over the coronavirus should be permitted to attend a match in France.

My answer would have been no. Public health concerns should have trumped the desire of 3,000 Juventus fans to attend this match and of the giant Italian club to have its supporters present.

Lyon prevailed 1-0 on Wednesday. The second leg is scheduled for Turin in two weeks (the winner is determined by the aggregate score). Right now, it’s impossible to say whether the clubs will be allowed to play in Italy or whether, if they are, any fans will be allowed to attend.

The decision should be based solely on public health concerns — specifically, the status of the epidemic in Italy as match day approaches. And this time, in my view, the authorities should err on the side of caution.

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