- Associated Press - Thursday, March 12, 2020

BERLIN (AP) - Calls to scrap the rest of the Bundesliga season are growing as Europe struggles to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

This weekend’s games in Germany are all to be played without fans, while it’s likely that all games in the second division will be in empty stadiums, too.

Soccer without people is not soccer for us,” said Union Berlin president Dirk Zingler, whose next two games - against Bayern Munich on Saturday and at city rival Hertha Berlin a week later - will be without fans.

There will be eight rounds of games remaining in both divisions after this weekend.

However, second-division team Hannover said Thursday that all of its players were to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution after two team members tested positive for the virus.

Hannover defender Timo Hübers became the first player in Germany to test positive on Wednesday, leading to tests for the rest of the team. Jannes Horn was also found to have the virus.

“The situation is not easy for anyone involved, but for everyone it goes without saying that health is the priority,” Hannover sporting director Gerhard Zuber said.

Hannover was to ask the league to postpone its next two games against Dynamo Dresden and Osnabrück.

Also, Erzgebirge Aue’s game against visiting SV Sandhausen on Saturday was likely to be called off after the home team said two of its fans attending the Saxony derby at Dynamo Dresden the previous weekend tested positive for the virus.

“I’m assuming that it won’t be possible to play to the end of the season,” Aue president Helge Leonhardt told news agency dpa on Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, the German soccer federation postponed the next two rounds in the third division.

“We find ourselves in exceptional circumstances with new developments almost every hour,” federation general secretary Friedrich Curtius said. “One thing is clear - health stands above everything else.”

There were almost 2,100 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Germany on Thursday, with three deaths from the disease. Italy reported 827 deaths, Spain 55 and France 48.

Wednesday’s Rhine derby between Borussia Mönchengladbach and Cologne became the first Bundesliga game held without fans amid the outbreak.

“It’s no fun. It’s not nice, either,” said Gladbach coach Marco Rose after the 2-1 win. “Soccer without fans is not the soccer we want.”

Referee Deniz Aytekin was also critical.

“There’s something missing and massively so. I can only hope that this isn’t something for the long term,” Aytekin said. “Without fans it’s not worth half as much.”

Hundreds of Gladbach supporters gathered outside the stadium to cheer their team from afar and then celebrate afterward, somewhat defeating the purpose of not letting them in.

“The measures are absurd if fans gather in front of stadiums, like in Valencia this week before the game against Atalanta or in Paris for the game against Borussia Dortmund,” Bayern ultras Club No. 12 said Thursday in a statement.

The Bayern fans urged the federation to cancel all games “immediately” and criticized the current measures as insufficient.

Dortmund fan club Südtribune agreed with its Bavarian rivals, saying its members will not gather outside the stadium for Saturday’s Ruhr derby against Schalke.

“That games in the top two divisions are not yet suspended does not testify to foresight or responsibility, especially toward vulnerable parts of society and employees in hospitals and other facilities,” the Dortmund fans said in a statement.

They added that trying to conclude the season in current circumstances is “completely pointless and without any value.”

The federation has already said Germany’s friendly against Italy in Nuremberg on March 31 will go ahead without fans in attendance.

Cologne sporting director Horst Heldt questioned why the game was being played at all - a decision he said was “madness” - and he criticized soccer’s governing bodies for not being more proactive in dealing with the threat of the virus.

“FIFA and UEFA should come out of the woodwork and not hide,” said Heldt, who proposed putting the European Championship back by a year. “That would give us all a bit of breathing space.”

The Bundesliga’s clubs are to meet for an extraordinary general meeting with the country’s soccer authorities to discuss ongoing measures on Monday.

“We’re not at the end of developments,” Hertha general manager Michael Preetz said. “There will be more news, reports and decisions made in the coming days. We shouldn’t succumb to hysteria. Everyone’s health comes first.”


More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

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