PREMIER LEAGUE clubs now expect they will have to play some games behind closed doors because of the coronavirus.
SunSport reported how League chiefs have sent letters to all 20 clubs warning of the possibility of no fans in grounds to ensure the season is completed.
And Everton chief finance officer Sasha Ryazantsev revealed the Goodison outfit now anticipated behind closed doors games are set to be played.
Ryazentsev, speaking at the FT Business of Football Summit in London, said: “It would be a forced decision rather than one we would proactively engage in.
“But the whole situation goes far beyond the world of sport.
“Of course nobody wants to play behind closed doors and I don’t think it’s inevitable at the moment that it will happen.
“But we feel it is quite likely it may happen in the coming weeks.”
Fears over the spread of the virus by unnecessary travel saw speakers from Uefa and Sky Sports, including pundit Gary Neville, pull out of the conference at a Mayfair hotel.
But Ryazantsev did make the trip and added: “If it were to happen it’s not about the money but looking after our supporters.
“I believe they would understand that.
“I believe it will have a negative financial impact on the club and football but a temporary one rather than a lasting impact.”
There are no suggestions that games will not still be broadcast on TV.
Prem and FA bosses will not make the move to play games with no fans inside the stadium unless it is the strong advice of the government.
They would seek to ensure any fan-free match scheduling was kept to the minimum, with supporters recognised as part of the heartbeat of the game.
But senior FA and Prem chiefs have privately made it clear they will not seek to delay any such instructions and would follow government advice to the letter.
That is why, along with the EFL, they have already had discussions to draft contingency plans if fixtures do go ahead without supporters.
The major concern is that, should a key match – potentially Liverpool winning the title – be forced to go ahead with no fans inside the ground, then it could lead to thousands of supporters congregating outside.
And it is unclear quite how restrictive any behind closed doors matches would be.
England played a fan-free Nations League game against Croatia in Rijeka last season, punishment for a swastika being marked on the pitch before a Euro 2016 qualifier.
As well as Gareth Southgate’s players, officials from both teams and Uefa, stadium staff and the English and Criatian media were inside to watch and report.
But last week, when the coronavirus scare saw Inter Milan facing Bulgarians Ludogorets in an empty San Siro, restrictions were far tighter.
Only the television rights holders and Inter’s in-house club photographers Gerry Images were allowed to chronicle events and join the club, Uefa and stadium staff.
Prem bosses will be reluctant to go down that route and it seems infeasible – unless the government demands such a course of action – that the majority of the media would be banned as well.
But this is unchartered territory and the final position will only become clear when a closure decision is made.
The Italian government have ordered all sporting events to take place without fans until April 3 due to coronavirus outbreak – including England’s Six Nations game in Rome on March 14.
Italy has been the European country worst affected by the disease, with 79 people so far having been killed there by Covid-19.
A number of Serie A matches have already had to be postponed over the last fortnight.
Five Serie A games were played behind closed doors last weekend, while the Swiss Super League postponed their matches.
And in Formula 1, chief Ross Brawn says Grands Prix will be scrapped if any team is denied entry to a country.
The spread of the deadly coronavirus is playing havoc with plans for the season-opener in Melbourne on March 15.
Ireland’s rugby Six Nations clash against Italy, scheduled for this Saturday, has been postponed.
It is unlikely to be rescheduled before October.
But Olympic bosses have insisted Tokyo 2020 will go ahead on schedule — after Japanese officials hinted it could be postponed due to the coronavirus.