Coronavirus: Inter Milan chairman attacks 'clown' Serie A chief over schedule chaos

The Italian epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak is in the northern part of the country where many of the big football teams play

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2020 file photo, Inter Milan President Steven Zhang follows the Serie A soccer match between Inter Milan and Cagliari at the San Siro Stadium, in Milan, Italy. The Italian soccer federation prosecutor opened an inquiry Tuesday, March 3, 2020 into Zhang’s post insulting Serie A president Paolo Dal Pino for the way the Italian league is handling the fallout from the virus outbreak. (Fabio Ferrari/Lapresse via AP, file)

Inter Milan chairman Steven Zhang has launched a scathing attack on Serie A president Paolo Dal Pino, calling him "the biggest clown I have ever seen" as Italian football's schedule is thrown into chaos by the coronavirus.

Italy has borne the European brunt of the COVID-19 disease now sweeping across much of the world. More than 2,000 people have tested positive and 52 have died from the virus in Italy since February 22.

The big problem for football is that the Italian epicentre of the outbreak is in the northern part of the country where many of the big teams play.

Milan's Lombardy region has recorded 38 deaths and its western neighbour Piedmont - home to Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus - has also been heavily hit.

Now the bosses of Inter Milan are lashing out at league president Dal Pino for what they view as random scheduling decisions that favour specific teams.

Inter's Chinese chairman Zhang posted an extraordinary attack aimed at Dal Pino on his Instagram account on Tuesday, writing: "Playing around [with] the calendar and always putting the public health as secondary consideration. You are probably the biggest and darkest clown I have ever seen.

"How about we don't protect our players or coaches and ask them to play for you 24/7 nonstop? Yes, I am speaking at you. Our Lega President #PauloDalPino! #shameonyou."

Inter have not played in Serie A since losing to surprise league leaders Lazio on February 16. They trail second-placed Juventus by six points but have a game in hand, but it is far from clear just when that game might be played.

Their home match against Sampdoria and last weekend's title clash with Juventus were both postponed. Inter wanted the Juve match played behind closed doors so that players did not lose form.

Their last meaningful match was against Bulgaria's Ludogorets in the Europa League last week. It was a drab affair they won 2-1 at an empty San Siro stadium in Milan.

A screenshot of Steven Zhang's statement posted on Insta-story on his Instagram account.

All the postponements have created confusion and a logistical nightmare. Some of the matches are being rescheduled for May 13 - theoretically the time the Italian Cup final should have been played.

Inter could be in that final if they manage to overturn a 1-0 deficit away to Napoli in the return leg of their semi-final tie on Thursday. That match is still scheduled to go ahead.

Inter chief executive Beppe Marotta called Dal Pino's various scheduling moves "impractical and almost provocative".

"You find teams that haven't played for two weeks, others that play continuously," Marotta fumed in a separate TV interview.

Dal Pino has not said much in self-defence and largely avoided the media. But Italian Olympic Committee boss Giovanni Malago - himself facing uncertainty about whether the Tokyo Summer Games will go ahead in July - told La Repubblica daily it was time for everyone to calm down.

"Health comes before everything, and that includes football," Malago said. "There are people dying, people getting sick, and people trying to bring this global emergency under control. "I'd say it is time to stop this playground squabbling."