Despite coronavirus concerns, Inter Milan president Steven Zhang confident Serie A season will be completed

Inter Milan president Steven Zhang talks to Alex Thomas about the coronavirus response from Italy's Serie A and his Instagram posts calling the Serie A president a clown.

Posted: Mar 6, 2020 5:31 PM
Updated: Mar 6, 2020 5:31 PM

As recently evidenced by Inter Milan's eerie Europa League clash against Ludogorets in an empty San Siro, sport without fans is no spectacle at all -- but it could become the new normal in Italy over the next few months as the country grapples with the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Inter president Steven Zhang says he is confident the Serie A season can be finished, even if it means playing matches behind closed doors.

Italy is battling Europe's largest outbreak of the virus with more than 3,800 cases and almost 150 deaths, leading Italian authorities to cancel several top-flight matches, including Inter's top-of-the-table clash against Juventus which was called off last weekend.

"Public health is the most important thing," Zhang told CNN's Alex Thomas at the FT Business of Football Summit in London. "That's why I think in order to make sure everyone is on the same page, everyone is taking the necessary action, protecting the ones around them.

"Obviously with the fans in the stadium, the matches will be more exciting. It's part of the experience of football. However, as we said many times, as a football organization, as a sport, or sport organization it will have big impact in society, its important that we always put safety and public health first.

"From experience, we must see China which is acting successfully reducing the crowds, reducing condensed areas, having less people moving in these areas will help the spreading of virus significantly.

"So in order to continue on the (Serie A) calendar, continue on the matches, but at the same time making sure safety is being touched by everybody in the country and society, I think this (behind closed doors) is a good solution for all of us."

READ: Inter Milan president calls Serie A counterpart 'clown' over handling impact of coronavirus

READ: Juventus donates leftover food to charity after coronavirus postpones Coppa Italia game

'Clown'

Just days after calling Serie A president Paolo Dal Pino a "clown" for his handling of the league schedule in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Zhang was diplomacy personified on Thursday.

Zhang was unhappy that Dal Pino had chosen to reschedule Inter's match against Juventus rather than postpone it, something he believed would put public safety at risk.

Speaking on stage at the FT summit about his Instagram post, the 29-year-old Zhang said: "A lot of people think my words are strong but when protecting people and safety, words are never [too] strong."

"I'm not an expert on the health and on the virus," Zhang later told CNN. "But what I believe is that as long as we are taking the necessary steps, precautions, as what we've learned again from what we are doing in the China office or a lot of companies are taking the actions in China, we see that the situation can be better."

As a shareholder in Chinese real estate company Suning Holdings Group, which owns Inter and has offices in China, Zhang has first-hand experience of COVID-19's devastating effects.

He believes the Italian government's decision to shut down and quarantine parts of the country and close all schools and universities vindicates his tough stance against Dal Pino, but says that is now in the past.

"I think what happened before is not relevant anymore," Zhang told CNN. "But at least with the help from the government, all the stakeholder are on the same page now. We are taking the right steps from today.

"For the public it is not a very good condition. I think overall it's a difficult moment, a difficult situation for all the clubs, all the companies but as we see the improvements that they are trying to make and the recognition from the world health department (WHO), if we are taking the necessary step, sooner or later the situation will be improved.

"So I'm not too worried about it and at the same time I think its not necessary to have too much panic, as people are working and living everyday in the city around their families, they have to always look to do the necessary steps."

Title race

From a sporting perspective, the disruption has come at the worst possible time for Serie A.

The league is witnessing a thrilling title race between Inter, Juventus and Lazio as the Milan and Rome clubs bid to end Juve's eight-year stranglehold on the Scudetto.

However, should Inter reach the finals of the Coppa Italia and Europa League, Antonio Conte's side faces the prospect of playing 23 games in 12 weeks which could severely hinder its chances of a first Serie A title since 2010.

And with Juventus also competing in the Coppa and Champions League, that could hand the advantage to Lazio in the race for the Scudetto.

"I think now by starting the game this weekend, eventually we can finish the season and I think these are not difficulties only we are facing," Zhang said. "I think all the other clubs are having the same issues, but for sure step by step playing the games, week by week we can conquer the difficulties.

"When you are looking at sports events and league matches, especially those taking nine or 10 month or almost a year to finish, in the middle of it you never see or can never predict what can happen at the end -- and that's why sports are so exciting and fascinating for people.

"So even though there are some great moments, and even though maybe sometimes there are up and downs ... we can only judge by end of the season."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 49063

Reported Deaths: 2732
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11760689
Lake5276246
Elkhart340255
Allen2835133
St. Joseph200169
Cass16429
Hamilton1608101
Hendricks1425100
Johnson1296118
Porter76738
Tippecanoe7359
Clark66844
Madison66764
Bartholomew59145
Vanderburgh5876
LaPorte58326
Howard58058
Kosciusko5624
Marshall5016
Noble48528
LaGrange4779
Jackson4733
Boone45443
Delaware45252
Hancock45236
Shelby43125
Floyd38444
Morgan32731
Monroe30928
Montgomery29720
Grant29626
Clinton2902
Dubois2886
Henry28216
White26610
Decatur25432
Lawrence24825
Dearborn23823
Vigo2388
Warrick22729
Harrison21622
Greene19032
Miami1862
Jennings17712
Putnam1708
DeKalb1634
Scott1628
Daviess14817
Wayne1436
Orange13623
Perry1359
Steuben1302
Franklin1268
Ripley1247
Jasper1232
Wabash1142
Carroll1102
Fayette1037
Newton9910
Gibson982
Whitley975
Starke943
Randolph804
Huntington782
Jefferson762
Wells751
Fulton721
Jay680
Washington671
Pulaski661
Knox640
Clay604
Rush583
Owen501
Adams491
Benton480
Posey450
Sullivan451
Spencer441
Brown421
Blackford392
Crawford320
Fountain322
Tipton311
Switzerland280
Parke240
Martin220
Ohio180
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike110
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 60181

Reported Deaths: 2991
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10879439
Cuyahoga8277383
Hamilton6287206
Lucas2836303
Marion273639
Summit2241207
Pickaway220541
Montgomery220131
Mahoning1861239
Butler167447
Columbiana130960
Stark1156113
Lorain106468
Trumbull99774
Warren89525
Clark7809
Delaware61715
Fairfield60517
Tuscarawas58510
Belmont55522
Medina54332
Lake52920
Licking52012
Miami47531
Portage46159
Wood45251
Ashtabula43744
Clermont4317
Geauga41443
Wayne36552
Richland3515
Allen32841
Mercer2909
Greene2879
Darke25326
Erie25022
Holmes2453
Huron2282
Madison2029
Ottawa16024
Washington14020
Sandusky13814
Crawford1365
Putnam13215
Ross1323
Coshocton1302
Hardin12312
Morrow1181
Auglaize1074
Jefferson922
Union921
Monroe8917
Muskingum891
Hancock831
Preble801
Athens791
Hocking798
Guernsey763
Lawrence740
Williams722
Shelby704
Clinton680
Logan651
Fulton630
Ashland621
Carroll603
Wyandot605
Brown591
Scioto540
Defiance533
Knox531
Fayette480
Highland461
Champaign441
Van Wert420
Perry371
Seneca352
Henry320
Jackson260
Paulding260
Adams241
Pike240
Vinton222
Gallia201
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 75°
Angola
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 73°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
74° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 74°
Decatur
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 72°
Van Wert
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 72°
AM Storms, Slightly Cooler Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events