In an address to the French National Assembly on Tuesday, the country’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that “big sporting affairs” will not be allowed to return until at least September 2020 due to the continual threat of coronavirus to people’s health. From a European football point of view, this is big, and rather unexpected, news as the French leagues initially had plans in place to resume club training in May.
However, not now. The Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 2019/20 seasons will not be able to resume. According to Philippe, there is no way that team contact sports can comply with social distancing measures that are universally anticipated to be in place for an extended period of time. UEFA have given all European leagues a deadline of the 25th May to confirm whether they intend to complete or cancel their seasons. The French Football Federation have been forced to confirm the latter, much to UEFA’s disappointment. So, what are the consequences of this decision?
A loss of revenue is a huge concern for poorer Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs
Firstly, there will inevitably be negative financial ramifications. Such a decision will result in an immense fall in revenue for all clubs in the French football league. It now seems highly unlikely that any broadcaster will pay for any outstanding TV rights, while ticket and merchandise sales will understandably plummet. A loss of revenue is a huge concern for poorer Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs. The French league system is rife with financial inequality, and clubs without the same backing as the elites could soon struggle to stay afloat.
The French Professional Football League (LFP) announced on Thursday (30/04/20) that the final standings across its competitions would be determined using the points-per-game (PPG) system. As a result, Paris Saint-Germain have been crowned league champions, while Marseille and Rennes secured the final two places in the Champions League places Lille, meanwhile, will return to the Europa League, after finishing the season fifth in Ligue 1. At the other end of the standings, Toulouse and Amiens have been relegated to Ligue 2, while Lens and Lorient have been promoted to the top flight, with the latter handed the title.
Olympique Lyonnais, who missed out on a European place after finishing seventh in the standings, have released a statement suggesting that they could appeal against the LFP’s decision to end the season. Lyon were just one point behind Nice and Reims, who occupy the final two Europa League qualification berths, with ten matches remaining.
The French announcement certainly puts a spanner in the works
“Olympique Lyonnais reserves the right to appeal against that decision and claim damages, in particular in respect of loss of opportunity and in the light of the case-law of other professional sports which is currently under way, since the damage to the club amounts to several tens of millions of euros,” they said in a statement.
“We proposed as early as Tuesday that the league study an alternative solution that would allow the championship to end and thus preserve the fairness inherent in any sporting competition and be in line with UEFA’s proposals based on sporting merit according to objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles.”
Another ramification of this decision is the damage it does to UEFA’s initial plans to finish the season across Europe. The administrative body for European football had hoped that all leagues would be finished in August. The French announcement certainly puts a spanner in the works. Furthermore, UEFA had aimed to finish the Champions League in the same month, yet with French giants PSG and Lyon still in the competition, this announcement puts that plan in real jeopardy. One way around this might be to play the remaining Champions League ties on neutral ground outside of France, something that PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi has already expressed interest in.
We must be patient in the face of uncertainty to see results
Nonetheless, the pressure on UEFA is sure to increase. “Should UEFA halt all European football or put in place realistic plans for the season’s restart”, is the question being raised across the continent. Some associations, like Belgium’s, are pushing for all leagues to be scrapped for this season. Whilst other leagues, notably the larger ones like Germany’s Bundesliga and the Premier League, are quickly putting plans together to try to enable a restart at some point in the near future.
The decision of the French government means pressure mounts on UEFA to admit defeat and cancel all European football for the remainder of the season. Whether this pressure will amount to action, remains unclear. As with everything else with coronavirus, we must be patient in the face of uncertainty to see results.