Inter Milan, who Arsenal are scheduled to play on Sunday, July 25th in the Florida Cup in Orlando, are reportedly withdrawing from the competition and not traveling to the United States over concerns about the Delta Variant of COVID-19 per a report out of Italy, as translated and reported by football-italia. The withdrawal is not yet official but could be confirmed today. Inter would have to pay a cancellation fee should they back out of the tournament.
UPDATE: The social media accounts for the Florida Cup and the organizers, as of around 12 PM ET on Monday, are still operating as if Inter Milan will be in the competition.
If Inter do withdraw, the Florida Cup will be left scrambling to find a replacement for the Serie A side. You’d hope that the organizers, in the age of COVID travel and quarantines, would have a backup plan and backup club in place, but most teams have their preseason schedule locked-in. MLS is in the middle of their season and have a slate of games this weekend, so even though an MLS club would seem the most likely 11th hour replacement, I don’t think any are available to play two matches.
Right now, there has been no indication / response from Arsenal, Everton, or Millonarios that they might pull out of the competition as well. But you have to wonder whether they’re concerned about the spread of the Delta variant in Florida. At the time of publication, based on Washington Post data, Florida is reporting almost 6,500 new cases of coronavirus a day, and their 7-day rolling average of cases per 100k people is on a steep incline.
Those “bad” numbers are mostly down to a comparatively middle-of-the-road vaccination rate in Florida against other states. And as has been widely reported about all U.S. states, the overwhelming majority of new cases are among people who have not yet been vaccinated.
The problem is we don’t know how many Arsenal players or traveling staff have been vaccinated. Beyond that, even those that are vaccinated can still test positive for COVID-19, as recently happened with several vaccinated players on the New York Yankees. Positive tests force cancellations and quarantines for close contacts, which could interfere with preseason training and travel.
Inter’s potential withdrawal is a sobering reminder that even though the vaccines have helped slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United States and Europe, the virus is still very much a part of our lives. COVID isn’t over just because we’re over it. Indeed for most of the world, the highly transmissible Delta variant is a devastating problem that is raging mostly unchecked. Last month, the number of worldwide COVID deaths in 2021 surpassed the worldwide death total for all of 2020. Those of us who are moving towards returning to some semblance of normal would do well to remember that we’re in a privileged minority globally and that we should still be vigilant and sensible.
Again, there has been no indication from Arsenal that they will not travel to the U.S. in the coming days because of COVID concerns and Inter Milan have yet to officially withdraw from the Florida Cup. Hopefully the team is able to travel safely, without incident, and everyone stays healthy. For the stateside Gooners, I sincerely hope the competition will go off without a hitch, even if Inter Milan do withdraw.