ROME (AP) — FIFA president Gianni Infantino met with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday to discuss bringing back fans to soccer stadiums amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Infantino said it was the first of several meetings planned with government leaders.
“Obviously soccer without fans isn’t the same thing,” Infantino said. “But health is the most important thing. We have to see what happens now during this period that we’re starting to live in contact with other people again.”
Italian soccer matches have been closed to fans since the country was ordered into a strict lockdown in March. After a three-month break, last season’s Serie A ended in August with all games played in empty stadiums.
The new season starts in 10 days.
Italy’s official death toll from the virus tops 35,000 — the second highest in Europe after Britain. The confirmed number of cases in the country stands at more than 280,000. The number of new daily infections has topped 1,000 for several weeks as Italy aggressively tests and traces people returning from vacation, especially hot spots like Sardinia.
“This is my first trip abroad post-COVID and it’s right to start from Italy, which suffered a lot. I also suffered a lot as an emigrant,” said Infantino, who is Swiss-Italian.
Over the weekend, Conte came out firmly against reopening stadiums to fans.
“As far as I’m concerned, going to the stadium means an inevitable gathering, not only in the stands but for entering and exiting,” Conte said Saturday. “It’s absolutely inopportune.”
Italian Soccer Federation president Gabriele Gravina accompanied Infantino to the meeting at the premier’s palace.
Gravina said Conte was more concerned with getting children back to school this month but that the premier suggested he would then consider the question of soccer fans.
Also in Italy, the Stadio Olimpico in Rome is slated to host the opening game of the European Championship next June plus three other matches of the tournament, which was postponed to 2021.
FIFA has no immediate plans to expand on the $1.5 billion coronavirus relief plan it announced for world soccer earlier this year.
“For now we’ll stop there but if more is needed we’ll see,” Infantino said. “Even though Switzerland is the country of banks we don’t have a machine to print money.
He added that relief plans are being focused on the women’s and youth sectors.
The five substitution rule installed to lighten the strain on players amid the pandemic remains temporary.
“It will be applied until the end of this season,” Infantino said. “Whether it will be applied or not in the future is something that we’ll have to analyze. For the moment it is a temporary rule. We have to speak with everyone and see. For now I think it has proven successful.”
Some domestic leagues, like England’s Premier League, have decided not to use five substitutes this season.
Infantino also addressed Lionel Messi’s decision to remain at Barcelona after the six-time Ballon d’Or winner previously announced he wanted to leave the club.
“Messi is of course an incredible player. He’s more than a player; he’s a big, big, big legend and Barcelona is his club,” Infantino said. “Finally they reached a conclusion then that’s certainly right for both of them, I would imagine. Let’s see what comes in the future.”
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