While the fate of the current football season remains in the balance, Virgil van Dijk has spoken of his fear that Liverpool’s first title success in three decades will eventually be secured in an empty stadium while fans are excluded because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The season is currently on hold with action due to restart in the EFL and Premier League on 3 and 4 April respectively, though such an early resumption is widely considered unlikely. The government is expected to announce imminently a ban on mass gatherings, including sporting events, to come into force next weekend, while the Premier League is to meet on Thursday to discuss their next steps.
“If we won it in an empty stadium and the fans weren’t there, I’d be gutted for them,” said Van Dijk. “Obviously, if there are no fans at Anfield, then it will be a bit of a blow – no one wants to play games without the fans. Until a decision is made on how we go on from here, then we just have to deal with it. But when it happens, we are still bringing the title to our fans, definitely.”
Elsewhere the Valencia defender Ezequiel Garay became the first player from Spain’s top division to reveal that he had tested positive for coronavirus. The 33-year-old, who ruptured a cruciate ligament against Celta Vigo at the start of February, wrote on Instagram: “It is clear that I have got off to the start of 2020 on the wrong foot. I have tested positive for coronavirus. I feel well and now all I can do is listen to the public health authorities and remain in isolation.”
Valencia later announced that a total of five people at the club, both players and technical staff, have tested positive. “They are all are at home, in good health, and under isolation measures,” a statement said. “The club reiterates its support for the authorities in the social distancing campaign for the entire population to stay at home and continue with the hygiene and prevention measures already publicised.”
Stuart Broad used his column in the Daily Mail to praise the England and Wales Cricket Board for abandoning the tour of Sri Lanka on Friday and bringing the players home. “The NBA was called off, the Melbourne Grand Prix was called off, golf’s Players Championship was called off. Suddenly, it was like ‘wow’. These major worldwide events were being postponed and there was a feeling within our group that we ought to think about where we stood,” he wrote. “Thankfully it did not come to that. They made a very tough but necessary decision and credit to them for putting the players and the fans first.”
However despite the chaos being caused to the global sporting schedules, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzō Abe, insisted on Saturday that this summer’s Tokyo Games will continue “without a hitch”. The European boxing qualification event at London’s Copper Box Arena was one of few major sporting events to go ahead this weekend, while pentathlon’s governing body, the UIPM, announced on Sunday that the remainder of the World Cup season would be played in May, to allow qualified athletes time to prepare for Tokyo.
The Games’ vice-president Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr said: “The position of the International Olympic Committee has been very firm: the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will start on 26 July and there has been no indication from the health authorities that consideration should be given to cancelling the Games.
“On that basis, we need to do all we can to protect the Olympic qualification process so that all athletes can have a fair chance of fulfilling their dreams of taking part in Tokyo.”