MADRID — An outbreak of positive COVID-19 tests among players of a second-division club has created chaos in Spanish soccer.
The positive results were announced just hours before Monday's final round, prompting the suspension of one decisive game and the ire of other clubs who felt they were at a disadvantage.
The match between Deportivo La Coruña and Fuenlabrada was postponed after some Fuenlabrada players tested positive. The entire final round was at risk of being postponed but all of the other matches — which the league originally wanted to be played at the same time — went on as scheduled.
Some clubs said the decision to suspend only one game instead of the entire round affected the outcome of the competition because many teams depended on the result of the Deportivo-Fuenlabrada match.
Elche, for example, was holding on to the last playoff spot and will only keep it if Fuenlabrada loses to Deportivo.
Deportivo would still be fighting to avoid relegation had it played on Monday, but other results sealed its demotion and it will have nothing to play for when its game is rescheduled.
“Obviously a decision has been made that directly affects the integrity of the competition and we believe that it was not fair,” Elche said in a statement. “A situation like the one experienced today shows the importance of strict compliance with the rules and safety and hygiene measures determined by authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Rayo Vallecano had been in a similar position and its chances of promotion depended in part on Fuenlabrada's result, so it threatened legal action against the decision not to postpone all matches.
Deportivo also said it would consider legal options to defend its interests. It said in a statement that the club complied with all health and security measures and was ready to play the match.
The league — along with the Spanish soccer federation and the nation’s sports council — said the decision not to reschedule all matches was “the solution that best protected the health of players and the overall integrity of the competition.”
Deportivo coach Fernando Vázquez said his team's rivals benefited by being able to play their games.
“They have an advantage because they don't have the pressure of our result,” Vázquez told Movistar. “Why couldn't we play all at the same time, without anybody having a competitive advantage?”
Deportivo, the 2000 Spanish league champion, was relegated to the third division for the second time in club history. The first time was in the 1980-81 season. No other league champion had dropped to the third division since Real Betis in 1947, according to Spanish media.
Fuenlabrada, based just south of Madrid, is trying to reach the top flight for the first time.
The promotion playoffs, which were expected to begin on Thursday, will also have to be delayed. There was no date set for a new game between Deportivo and Fuenlabrada.
The Spanish league did not say how many Fuenlabrada players or club members tested positive. The club said no one who tested positive showed symptoms of the disease. Spanish media said Fuenlabrada was expected to be held in confinement until everyone tested negative again. The club hosted Elche last week.
Spain was one of the hardest-hit countries by the coronavirus. The pandemic had been under control but some surges of new cases have been reported recently.
“It's a little alarming, we were all congratulating ourselves on how well we were doing as a society," Vázquez said. “It’s a warning.”
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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press