The latest wave of Covid-19 is sweeping across the globe due to the Omicron variant, and Italy is, unfortunately, no exception.
On Tuesday, the country reported its largest number of new COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic in 2020 with over 220,000 cases, the Italian Health Ministry said.
In a desperate attempt to curb the soaring infection rates and reduce hospitalizations, the government is planning to introduce stricter measures, which will impact travel, social events, transportation, and sports.
And soccer is no exception. On Wednesday, Lega Serie A – the body governing Italy’s top-flight soccer league – together with the government, drafted a new Covid-19 protocol aimed at avoiding postponements and getting through the fixture schedule.
Under the new rules, a game can be postponed only if at least 35 percent of the playing squad has tested positive for Covid-19.
More importantly, only senior players are included in the toll, excluding second teams and youth squad.
Under the new rules, at least 12 players out of a squad of 33 should test positive for a match to be postponed.
The new regulation has been finalized after several games in the last two matchdays were canceled following Covid-19 outbreaks in four teams, when the existing protocol – which allowed games to take place if at least 13 players per team were fit – was overturned by the local health authorities (Azienda Sanitaria Locale, or ASL), plunging the league into chaos.
Bologna, Torino, Udinese, and Salernitana were ordered into quarantine by the local ASLs, but Lega Serie A refused to postpone their matches, forcing their opponents to roam on an empty pitch for 45 minutes, before the referee would declare the game abandoned.
According to Italian newswire Adkronos, the new protocol will be approved by a scientific committee on Thursday and will limit the ability of ASLs to dictate squad decisions, settling once and for all who has the right to order the postponement or cancellation of a match in the event of an outbreak.
“Football needs dialogue, clear rules, and accountability and the new protocol is born on this basis. I hope that the scientific committee will also recognize the commitment and daily efforts of the soccer movement for the protection of health”, said Italian Soccer Federation president Gabriele Gravina.
Additionally, the period of self-isolation for players showing no symptoms will be reduced from five days to three, while the new guidelines will allow players to still be able to train and even play if they had close contact with someone who has tested positive.
But the new protocol is not the only measure to take effect this January, given that Italian authorities further reduced stadiums’ capacity to just 5,000.
The decision was announced by the 20 Serie A team in a joint statement last Saturday and will last until the end of January.
While the previous restrictions – which already limited stadiums’ capacity at 50% – were already a strain on the teams struggling budget, the 5,000 limit could be the last nail in the coffin of the matchday revenues.
According to an estimation made by Italian daily La Repubblica, the move will cause a loss in the region of $22,5 million for the clubs (around 260,000 tickets in total), with the 5,000 seats going mostly to sponsor and corporate hospitality.
Just to give an idea of the average income generated on matchday, the FC Inter-AC Milan derby played in Giuseppe Meazza stadium last November – with 75% capacity – saw an attendance of over 56,000, which in turn generated a $5,5 million revenue.
Drawing from this example, the big match between AC Milan and FC Juventus planned for January 23 could have raised more than $4 million at 50% capacity.
The massive losses in the operating revenues caused by covid restrictions are further burdening Italian clubs, with little hope for the current season.