Serie A matches to be played behind closed doors in coronavirus region

ROME: Italy's top-flight soccer matches can go ahead behind closed doors in the area affected by the coronavirus outbreak after the government agreed to a request from the country's football federation (FIGC), the ANSA news agency reported on Monday.

Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora was quoted by ANSA as saying that sporting events had been banned in the affected regions until Sunday but that "for some events we have given the possibility to play them behind closed doors."

These would include the game between Serie A leaders Juventus and third-placed Inter Milan in Turin on Sunday.

Seven people have died and more than 220 have come down with the virus, mainly in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto, in Europe's worst outbreak of the illness.

Bulgarian club Ludogorets Razgrad said on their website that they had been informed by European soccer's governing body UEFA that their Europa League last 32, second-leg tie at Inter Milan on Thursday would go ahead in an empty stadium at San Siro.

The FIGC said on its website that it had made the request to the Italian government for matches to be played without fans in attendance "to safeguard the sporting competition."

Four Serie A matches were postponed at the weekend including Inter's match at home to Sampdoria and there is already a shortage of possible dates for re-scheduled fixtures.

The matches which would be played without fans in attendance are Udinese-Fiorentina on Saturday and the AC Milan-Genoa, Juve-Inter, Parma-SPAL, Sassuolo-Brescia matches on Sunday plus Sampdoria-Verona on Monday.

The other four matches can be played with spectators if the virus does not spread further.

Pro 14 rugby union said two matches due to be played in Italy next weekend -- Zebre's match with Welsh club Ospreys in Parma and Treviso-based Benetton's game against Irish side Ulster -- had been postponed.

Italy's Rugby Federation has cancelled all matches due to be played at the weekend, from elite to grass roots level, as well as all gatherings of national teams at various age-levels.

Italy's remaining home tie in the Six Nations is against England on March 14 in Rome.

Another upcoming event which could be in doubt is the Milan-San Remo cycling race on March 21.

Tuesday's Champions League first-leg match between Napoli and Barcelona at Stadio San Paolo in Naples is taking place several hundred kilometres from the affected region and there has been no suggestion that it could be called off.