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SPORTS | 13-03-2020 09:01

South American World Cup qualifiers, Libertadores match postponed

FIFA postpones upcoming South American World Cup qualifiers due to the coronavirus crisis, while CONMEBOL pulls Libertadores matches.

FIFA has moved to postpone upcoming South American World Cup qualifiers due to the coronavirus crisis.

"Matches originally scheduled to take place during the international window of 23-31 March 2020 are postponed to later dates," world football's governing body announced on Thursday revealed.

The decision follows a request from CONMEBOL, South American football's governing body, to FIFA on Wednesday, to restage the matches at a later date.

The CONMEBOL letter said it expressed the position of its 10 members: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Many of the South American players selected for their national sides play in Europe, where the deadly disease is rapidly spreading.

FIFA's statement added that it would "continue to assess the situation in relation to Covid-19".

It said it would decide whether further changes to the schedule of South American World Cup 2022 qualifiers were required "always with the aim of protecting the health and safety of all individuals involved".

The fate of the Copa América meanwhile is unclear. The June 12-July 12 competition is due to be staged in Argentina and Colombia between the South American national sides with also invited Australia and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar.

In Argentina, in the City and Province of Buenos Aires all matches will be played behind closed doors until further notice, officials said Thursday.

Libertadores matches off

CONMEBOL on Thursday also suspended the next round of Copa Libertadores fixtures.

The tournament is the South American equivalent of Europe's Champions League, although the 2020 edition only began in January and is still at the group stage.

"Committed to the prevention of Covid-19 and faced with the risk of its spread, and to safeguard delegates, referees, officials, press and fans, [CONMEBOL] has taken the decision to suspend the 2002 Copa Libertadores matches in the week of March 15-21," said the governing body in a statement.

Latin American countries have been stepping up measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Several countries have announced two-week isolation periods on travellers arriving from the worst affected countries, while others have closed schools or banned festivities.

Costa Rica has suspended its football league while Argentina has called off its MotoGP in April as well as the South American Swimming Championships, an Athletics Grand Prix meeting, the Fencing World Cup and an Olympic boxing qualification tournament.

Brazil's Flamengo are the reigning Libertadores champions following a dramatic 2-1 victory over then-holders River Plate of Argentina in last year's final in Lima.

European suspensions

The English Premier League suspended all fixtures until April 4 on Friday after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for coronavirus.

"Following a meeting of shareholders today, it was unanimously decided to suspend the Premier League with the intention of returning on 4 April, subject to medical advice and conditions at the time," the Premier League said in a statement.

The English Football League, which heads up the three divisions below the Premier League, and Women's Super League will also be suspended until April 3.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that the government was considering the question of banning major public events such as sporting fixtures, but was not ready to do so yet.

The Six Nations rugby clash between Wales and Scotland is still due to go ahead in Cardiff on Saturday with a crowd of 70,000 expected.

UEFA, European football's governing body, has postponed all Champions League and Europa League games for the coming week and will have a crisis meeting on Tuesday to determine the fate of those competitions and Euro 2020.

– TIMES/AFP

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