'Lock them in a room until they agree.' Italy split over season re-start
It was meant as a joke to lighten the mood.
When leading Italian health official Giovanni Rezza was asked during the government's daily coronavirus news briefing about re-starting the Serie A season, he quipped that, as a fan of underperforming AS Roma, it would be better to call it off.
But that tweaked a nerve with Roma's bitter rivals Lazio, who were enjoying one of their best seasons for years before the title race was halted.
"Let scientists be scientists and not fans," said Lazio spokesman Arturo Diaconale. "It would be hoped that instead of stirring up controversy, he would devote energy to finding a cure or vaccine that can stop the contagion."
Rezza, the head of infectious diseases at the Italian National Health Institute (ISS), was taken aback. "I just made a simple joke," he said.
The exchange showed how deeply opinions are divided as Italian football, suspended since March 9, tries to find a way of resuming once the country's lockdown is loosened -- a reflection of the situation in many other countries.
The Italian federation (FIGC) is determined to complete the season and its president Gabriele Gravina has been presenting new ideas on an almost daily basis of how that can be done.
Among other things, he has proposed a playoff system and on Wednesday suggested that the season could even run to the end of the year while 2020-21 could be condensed into five months.
Failure to finish the season, he warned, could result in an "avalanche of litigation" from clubs who felt they had lost out unfairly.
But an agreement is proving evasive. Rezza himself has described the FIGC's plans for testing of players as a "bit of a stretch" and said that he was not in favour of a quick re-start.
Meanwhile, some clubs want the season abandoned altogether.
Brescia president Massimo Cellino has said that his team were prepared to forfeit games and Sampdoria's Massimo Ferrero cannot bear the thought of playing behind closed doors -- which is seen as a certainty for the next few months.
"What sort of match is it without the cheering of the crowd," he said.
The club's coach Claudio Ranieri was worried about trying to rush through the remaining 12 rounds of matches during the summer months when temperatures are high. He suggested allowing five substitutes per match to help players cope.
At the same time, clubs and players are at loggerheads over possible wage cuts, except at Juventus, Parma and Cagliari where agreements have been reached.
Serie A's proposal that players and coaches forego between two and four months' salary to help clubs compensate for loss of revenue has been labelled "inadmissible" by the players' union.
The coaches' association says that many backup staff cannot afford it and referees say they have been forgotten altogether.
On Thursday, the head of Italy's Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, appeared to despair.
"There's an extremely confusing and highly divisive debate brewing that can't lead to anything good," he told the Corriere dello Sport newspaper.
"I would have locked the FIGC, the Serie A league, the clubs, the coaches, the television networks, FIFA and UEFA in a room and I would not have let them out until they had produced a shared (agreed) document," he added. "What's missing is a precise, clear, practicable and convincing plan."
Ranieri, a weathered veteran who has coached around Europe, warned that the arguments were likely to continue. "For me it will always be a distorted championship," he said. "I am a coach and certain decisions are not up to me, but whatever happens, someone will be unhappy."
Turkmenistan league set to resume with fans despite coronavirus threat
Turkmenistan in Central Asia is set to resume its soccer season with spectators at the weekend, making it only the second country in the world to let fans attend matches as the new coronavirus shuts down almost all of world football.
Belarus is the only other country letting fans attend matches at the moment, while leagues in Nicaragua and Tajikistan are thought to be the only others still playing - but behind closed doors.
Burundi, the last African country to let football continue through the pandemic, suspended its league on Monday although it did not link the stoppage to the threat of the virus.
The Turkmenistan Football Federation (FFT) suspended its eight-team domestic league on March 24 but gave no official reason for its decision.
The former Soviet republic of 6 million people, which gained independence in 1991, has reported no coronavirus cases on its territory. However, it has already closed its borders to passenger traffic.
Its soccer championship will restart after a three-week hiatus on Sunday when Ashgabat-based Altyn Asyr, who have won the title for the last six seasons, face local rivals Kopetdag. Three more matches will be played on Monday.
Kopetdag, controlled by the Interior Ministry, currently top the standings with seven points from three games.
The FFT also said the country's youth championship will resume on Saturday.