Ireland’s Six Nations clash with Italy in doubt due to coronavirus

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A decision on whether or not Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations game against Italy in Dublin goes ahead next week looks set to be made on Wednesday.

Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) chief executive Philip Browne and Irish health minister Simon Harris were meeting in the capital.

The minister had previously said the match – scheduled for Saturday March 7 at the Aviva Stadium – should not take place due to the risk posed by the coronavirus.

China has reported 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths following the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus that has spread to a variety of countries, including Italy, where authorities have swiftly put in restrictions.

The Department of Health in Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team recommended the game should be postponed following a meeting on Tuesday afternoon, but the IRFU subsequently called for the minister to explain the “specific reasoning”‘ behind his comments.

Ahead of their talks, Browne said: “It would be somewhat unfair to be asking the IRFU to make decisions like this.

“I think ultimately we will comply with whatever directive we will be given.”

Asked if he was unhappy that they had learned of recommendations to postpone the match via the media, Browne added: “I don’t have anything to comment on that at the moment, but at this stage we are going in to talk to the minister and we are happy to do that.”

The minster, meanwhile, told RTE News: “The very clear view of the public health emergency team was that this game should not go ahead and that it would constitute a significant risk, because a very large number of people will be travelling from what is now an affected region.

“I know (it will) cause a great disappointment to many, but it is important to make decisions in relation to public health above and beyond all other considerations.”

This season’s Six Nations has two rounds of scheduled action remaining, and concludes in Paris on March 14 when current tournament leaders and title favourites France host Ireland in Paris.

Six Nations organisers said they were maintaining “close contact” regarding the outcome of Wednesday’s discussions.

Speed Skating – ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships – Day Three – Motorpoint Arena
The 2020 World Short Track Speed Skating Championships have been cancelled (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The sport’s governing body, the International Skating Union, confirmed the news on the day that the number of cases in South Korea was reported to have exceeded 1,000.

It follows the decision by officials in the South Korean capital to close and cancel all competitions at the Mokdong Ice Rink, which had been due to host the event.

Triple world champion Elise Christie tweeted her disappointment, writing: “`Unfortunately our world championships has been either cancelled or postponed to be reallocated with the ongoing covid-19 situation.

“But more importantly let’s hope the virus gets contained soon and further loss of life and illness is minimised as much as possible.”

ISU officials indicated it was impractical to consider postponing or finding a new venue for the Championships at such a late stage.

England are due to play Italy in a friendly at Wembley next month
England are due to play Italy in a friendly at Wembley next month (Nick Potts/PA).

Events across the sporting landscape have been effected by the outbreak, with Italian authorities putting restrictions in place in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

Inter Milan’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets will be played behind closed doors on Thursday, on the back of four Serie A matches being postponed last weekend.

Italy are due to play England at Wembley in a friendly on March 27, and the FA is meeting to discuss that match as well as other matters related to coronavirus.

England’s partially-sighted team are due to to play in Italy next month, while there was also talk of Italy’s Under-18s coming over to the the UK.

Euro 2020 is almost certainly going to be another topic of discussion, but the main focus is on March, as the tournament is then the jurisdiction of UEFA and the relevant authorities.

So far, the FA has said it will continue to take Government advice, with no special measures currently planned for next month’s match against Italy.

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