Authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran have suspended all sports events except football and futsal (soccer) matches in the next ten days due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
The suspension will start from next Monday, April 2, the authorities said.
An emergency committee formed to deal with coronavirus in sports announced last Saturday that all sports events in Iran had been called off. Still, a day later, it changed the decision and announced that football and futsal matches would be held during this period.
Then in a new round of confusion, the Iranian Football League Organization stepped in and released a statement announcing that all the football and futsal matches will be held without spectators.
Meanwhile, it has been disclosed that a 22-year-old member of Iranian women's futsal national team, Elham Sheikhi, has died of Covid-19, or coronavirus. Ms. Sheikhi was from the province of Qom that has been described as the epicenter of the deadly outbreak.
The capital of the province, city of Qom, 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Tehran, is the primary center of Shi'ite seminaries in Iran, hosting hundreds of Chinese Shi'a scholars.
Earlier, February 24, the representative of the city of Qom to Majles (Islamic parliament) had accused the government of covering up the full extent of the coronavirus outbreak in the city, the state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported.
"Fifty people have so far died of Covid-19 in Qom," ILNA cited Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani as saying.
Reacting to Ms. Sheikhi's death, an Iranian international women's futsal referee, Aso Javaheri, wrote on her Instagram page, "One of the officials responded to my request for suspending futsal matches, and arrogantly derided me, 'What's wrong with you? Why are you taking a simple sickness so seriously?'"
In the meantime, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has canceled all continental soccer club matches involving four Iranian teams.
The matches are canceled, while the Iranian Football federation insists on holding its premier league games without spectators.
However, the decision to hold football matches without spectators has prompted objections from some Iran Professional League (IPL) teams. They argue that the decision would deny their hosting rights in these final weeks of the IPL.
Retaliating with pictures under the title of "disinfecting the sports arenas," the Iranian Football Federation has attempted to show that disinfection procedures would be enough to guarantee the players' and officials' well-being.
The pictures have triggered a wide range of derisive responses from football coaches and players.
Football players and coaches are not anti-viruses, the coach of Tehran's Esteqlal (Esteghlal) FC, Farhad Majidi said.
The managing director of a club based in the northern city of Rasht, Sepidrood FC, has gone further, saying that ten of his players were already suffering from influenza, suspected of being triggered by the novel coronavirus.
"The people behind the ridiculous decision of holding football matches during the outbreak of Covid-19, should come forward, introduce themselves, and openly claim the responsibility for the consequences of their decision," Esteqlal FC's media director, Mohammad Nourifar, said, noting, "The whole team is exposed to the danger [of coronavirus] all through the trip, at their accommodation, and during the matches."