FIFA president Gianni Infantino has not ruled out postponing next month’s international football matches in response to the escalating global threat of the coronavirus.
The move could see Nigeria’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Group L qualifier double-header against Sierra Leone postponed.
The Super Eagles are due to host the Leone Stars in Asaba on Friday, 27 March with the return leg on Tuesday, March 31 at the Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown.
Nigeria announced its first case of the virus on Thursday when an Italian man who flew into the country two days earlier from Milan tested positive for the infection.
Italy-based Nigerian footballer King Paul Akpan Udoh also became the first footballer to contract the coronavirus on Friday.
More than 80,000 people have been infected by the virus, which originated in China but has since spread to more than 50 countries, resulting in nearly 2,800 deaths.
“People’s health is much more important than any game,” said Infantino.
Infantino says he is hopeful next month’s international fixtures will go ahead, but added: “I wouldn’t exclude anything at this moment.
“That’s why we have to look at the situation and hope that it will decrease rather than increase. At the moment it looks like it is still increasing.
“If games have to be postponed or played without spectators until it is over, then we have to go through that.”
FIFPro, a global union with 65 affiliated national associations, confirmed it has held talks with “various football stakeholders” about rescheduling international dates.
“FIFPro is concerned for the safety of players who may be exposed to the coronavirus and the danger of football acting as a vehicle to spread disease,” said the global union, which works on behalf of more than 65,000 players,” the union said in a statement.
“Players have contacted our member unions asking for assistance out of fear they could be made to perform in high-risk environments.
“While we understand the inconvenience this causes worldwide, the Covid-19 outbreak is bigger than football, and we applaud the willingness of competition organisers to take firm action in this delicate period.”
Already, the spread of the virus has impacted several football games across the globe.
Matches in the leading two divisions in Switzerland, where football’s global governing body FIFA has its headquarters, were postponed on Friday after the government banned all events involving more than a thousand people.
Meanwhile, five Serie A games in Italy including the Derby d’Italia between Juventus and Inter Milan will be played behind closed doors.
Leagues in Japan and South Korea were also postponed earlier this week.
Other major sporting events, including Six Nations rugby and the Chinese Grand Prix, have also been postponed because of the outbreak.
The outbreak could yet threaten the continent-wide Euro 2020 football championships starting in June and the Tokyo Olympics, due to get underway in July.