Rugby's Six Nations Championship was on the brink of chaos last night after the Irish government demanded Ireland’s clash with Italy be postponed over coronavirus fears.
More than 280 cases have been diagnosed in Italy – the worst-hit country in Europe – and the match in Dublin on Saturday week would attract up to 5,000 Italian fans.
Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team met to discuss the growing crisis and ruled that the occasion posed too great a health risk.
A spokesperson for the Rugby Football Union said such a decision would “not change the position at the moment” regarding England’s game in Italy on March 14.
Ireland sit joint second with England in the title race, four points behind leaders France with two rounds to play, but minister for health Simon Harris is adamant the plug must be pulled.
"We'll be publishing guidelines in relation to mass gatherings shortly,” he said. “But we've obviously taken a decision in relation to the Ireland v Italy rugby game.
"The very clear view of the Public Health Emergency Team was that the game should not go ahead, that it would constitute a significant risk because a very large number of people would be travelling from what is now an infected region.
"I know it will come as a great disappointment to many, but it is important to make decisions about public health above and beyond all other considerations.”
Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan told RTE News that “no other responsible action on public health grounds could be taken”.
The likely postponement would not effect the outcome of the championship if France win in Scotland on Sunday week then defeat Ireland in Paris six days later.
But lose either of those games and England and Ireland would potentially be in a position to snatch the title – and that could mean the matter remaining unresolved until a new date is found for Ireland’s Italian job.
Meanwhile Olympic stalwart Dick Pound has warned that coronavirus is “the new war” and that Japan has three months to win it if the Tokyo Games are to go ahead.
Pound, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee, urged athletes to prepare as normal as “the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation”.
He said a final decision could be delayed until late May but added that if the plug was then pulled “you’re probably looking at a cancellation”.
Pound spoke on the day Japan postponed all J-League football matches until March 15 as the country stepped up efforts to combat the spread of the virus.
“This is the new war and you have to face it,” Pound told the Associated Press, adding that by late May “folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo, or not?’”
“It’s a big, big, big decision and you just can’t take it until you have reliable facts on which to base it.
“You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, we’ll do it in October.”
Members of the J-League’s governing board have agreed to rearrange 94 matches.
"I am sorry to all of the fans,” said chairman Mitsuru Murai. “But we will cooperate in a situation that is somewhat of a national crisis."
Source: Read Full Article
Team of the week: The NRL’s rising stars shine brightest
Wales captain Ken Owens admits the end is nigh for an ageing team
Horsburgh helps Raiders off the mark in nail-biting win over Sharks
‘My heart is there for Nicholas’: Sea World helicopter crash survivor inspires Luai
Gary Ablett snr reveals ‘significant structural, functional brain damage’ diagnosis