Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Opinion: Whatever Happens, Lazio’s COVID-19 Situation Is A Fiasco

Posted on 18 November 2020 by Jonathan Smith

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Two weeks on from the alarming news coming out of Lazio that some players with coronavirus may have played, and little has been clarified.

The club’s response to the ongoing pandemic has been embroiled in controversy ever since Uefa’s COVID-19 testing lab found results that seemed contradictory to Lazio’s own.

When Ciro Immobile tested positive for the virus ahead of a Champions League match against Belgian champions Club Brugge, it was assumed that he would face a considerable spell out in self-isolation.

However, just four days later he was playing against Torino after being given a clean bill of health by Futura Diagnostica, the lab used by Lazio.

Frustration over a possible false-positive test quickly gave way to disbelief when the striker again tested positive three days later ahead of the match against Zenit Saint Petersburg.

While at this stage Lazio have not been formally accused of any wrongdoing, journalists in Italy were quick to point out that it was oddly convenient that their own results were finding last season’s Serie A top scorer perfectly healthy.

Such suspicions were only increased when Immobile and two other first team players tested positive by a Rome-based lab ahead of a match against Juventus, one day after being declared negative by Lazio officials.

At the root of the issue is that Lazio handle their coronavirus testing differently to almost every other side in Italy.

Lazio are one of only two clubs in Serie A to use a lab that is not in their own region, as Futura Diagnostica is based some 120-odd-miles away, in the town of Avellino. Whilst there is nothing illegal about this, it is worth noting that such a state of affairs hands legal responsibility for declaring positive tests to the club, rather than the laboratory.

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The club have firmly denied any suggestion of wrongdoing, although Lazio owner Claudio Lotito’s defence of the club in the form of a rambling and tasteless metaphor did little to assuage those who believed the club had been less-than-transparent in the way the situation had been handled.

As it stands, no charges have been brought against Lazio. However, legal proceedings have begun against Futura Diagnostica’s president, Massimiliano Taccone, whilst swabs used to test the players have been seized by the health authorities. The Italian Football Federation, have also opened their own investigation.

It may be that ultimately Lazio are cleared of all wrongdoing and, as has been suggested by recent reports in Italy that the seized swabs did exonerate them, that they have been just as surprised as any by what has happened.

However, even if that does ultimately turn out to be the case, it hardly suggests a club suffering with an abundance of administrative competence.

One of three things is surely true. Results have been deliberately misrepresented – in which case the club may face heavy retribution. Or, one of the most famous clubs in world football have been allowed to work with a laboratory that is run ineptly, casting serious doubts on the Italian Football Federation’s handling of the crisis. Or, most worryingly, COVID-19 testing is flawed to the extent of being barely reliable.

In a year dominated by fake news, conspiracy theories and of course, the other thing, not one outcome appears particularly palatable.