This past week, as the soccer world reacted to the coronavirus pandemic with an avalanche of league suspensions, Liga MX maintained a defiant, arguably negligent stance. While the severity of the outbreak became more clear by the hour, Liga MX continued to play on over the weekend. It began on Friday night, when Tijuana faced Pachuca and Queretaro visited Morelia, all in front of fans as if it were just another matchday.
As pressure mounted, Liga MX changed its tune on Saturday afternoon and made a new announcement: men’s and women’s top-division matches would be played behind closed doors.
Even then, the gravity of the situation still didn’t seem to click with some people. Jesus Gallardo for example, who scored a great goal for Monterrey in a 1-1 tie vs. Chivas, was filmed faking a cough, appearing to make light of what's a serious global situation.
It was a perfect parallel to the way the government was reacting to the pandemic, and the league itself said that's from where it was taking its cues. This past weekend, the nation’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, ignored the message from his own health officials by touring rural areas, shaking hands, hugging constituents and even kissing them on the cheek. He tweeted this to his nearly 6.6 million followers:
While the situation in Mexico is not as grave as it is elsewhere, yet anyway, as its neighbor to the north, cases are rising (at least 53 confirmed cases were reported on Sunday night, a rise from 41 a day earlier), and the message from experts is clear: stay home and no more large crowds.
Finally, Liga MX acted with common sense on Sunday afternoon by suspending play. “The measure announced today will remain in place until further notice and the resumption of play will be decided in coordination with the federal government's health secretariat," the league said in a statement.
Sunday night’s key battle between Club America and Cruz Azul, El Clasico Joven, wound up being the final game before the suspension went into place. Cruz Azul won, 1-0, thanks to a goal from the league’s top scorer, Jonathan Rodriguez, but the night couldn't have been carried out across a more symbolic backdrop.
As it pushed for an equalizer, Club America was dramatically awarded a penalty in the 99th minute, but Cruz Azul’s goalkeeper, Jesus Corona, made a huge save to deny Emanuel Aguilera.
La Maquina took the three points and stayed top of the table before the league suspended play. All of this, meanwhile, took place in an empty Estadio Azteca, with the dearth of fans leaving the giant Corona beer sponsorship emblazoned across the stadium's upper-deck sections of seats serving as a glaring reminder of why nobody was attending one of Mexico City's premier events.
This weekend’s action ended in dramatic fashion, but the truth is that it shouldn’t even have happened in the first place. Instead of following the example set by other leagues and prioritizing health, Liga MX dilly-dallied its stance and not only damaged its reputation, but most vitally, it placed thousands of people in jeopardy by committing the worst kind of penalty one can make during a global pandemic. It procrastinated.