Swine flu closes football stadiums

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The Independent Football

A surreal quality came to Mexican football on Sunday as a league game between clubs America and Tecos was played in a nearly empty Aztec Stadium, the giant 100,000-seat facility closed to the public because of the outbreak of swine flu.

Tecos won 2-1 with only a handful of team and stadium officials watching in the cavernous stadium, one of the largest in the world used to host football matches.

Only a few people milled around outside the stadium, with most of the city's 20 million inhabitants hunkered down at home. Most of those who ventured out wore surgical masks, which were being handed out by soldiers on street corners.

The Mexican Football Federation ordered two other weekend matches be played in empty stadiums.

Also in the Mexican capital on Sunday, capital club Pumas played Chivas in an empty University City stadium, which was sold out before the match. The match was a 1-1 draw and it was not immediately clear how ticket refunds might be handled.

On Saturday, Mexico City club Cruz Azul traveled to Pachuca — located about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from the Mexican capital — in another match ordered to be played without fans. Pachuca won 3-0 on a weekend of football when the importance of scores paled in comparison to the frightening outbreak of flu.

Mario Trejo, an official of the Pumas club, acknowledged a financial loss from the stadium closure. Ticket sales from the Pumas-Chivas games could amount to about 7-8 million pesos ($530,000-$600,000). Other revenue will be lost on concession stands and refreshments.

Football venues on Sunday in Mexico are usually like enormous open-air cantinas.

"Yes, it affects us, but ... it is more important to prevent the spread of the disease," Trejo, athletic director for the Pumas football club, told Mexico's Milenio TV.

In Mexico, 86 deaths are suspected to be swine flu related, with 22 of those confirmed. Nearly 1,400 people are believed infected. In Mexico City alone, five people have died since Saturday of influenza, with two of them confirmed to be swine flu, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said.

Mexican football officials have not announced what other measures will be taken for upcoming games in the capital or its outskirts.

A top Mexico City pro baseball team — Los Diablos Rojos or Red Devils — on Sunday said it would play three games next week away from its Mexico City stadium. The games will be played in Coahuila in the north of the country.