Whether their team was at the top of the domestic league or battling relegation at the lower end of the table when this year’s season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, Europe’s football fans have been wanting to know two things:
Will football return this year? And if so, when?
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But as European nations start to consider easing their lockdowns, some clarity over the immediate future of the multibillion-dollar sport may be emerging – or at least it might by the end of next month.
Domestic football leagues have been given a May 25 deadline to inform European football’s governing body, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), of their plans to restart their competitions, it was announced on Tuesday.
Officials, sponsors and broadcasters at club, country and continental levels are all keen to start planning for next season’s tournaments.
In a letter to the 55 federations in UEFA, union president Aleksander Ceferin wrote that any league cancelling its season would also need to produce a list of teams that had qualified for European club competitions by the same date.
“National Associations and/or Leagues should be in a position to communicate to UEFA by 25 May 2020 the planned restart of their domestic competitions including the date of restart and the relevant competition format,” Ceferin wrote.
“In the event that a domestic competition is to be prematurely terminated for legitimate reasons … UEFA would require the National Association to explain by 25 May 2020 the special circumstances justifying such premature termination and to select clubs for the UEFA club competitions 2020/21 on the basis of sporting merit in the 2019/20 domestic competitions,” he added.
The sport has been brought to a standstill by the pandemic, with the Euro 2020 competition postponed until next year and national leagues and continental club competitions on hold.
“The deadline of May 25 emphasises UEFA’s impatience for coordination and clarity on who intends to finish their leagues and qualified for European competition,” said Al Jazeera sports correspondent Lee Wellings.
“But what is making a nightmarish situation even more difficult for UEFA is the differing approaches being taken by major European nations.”
While leagues such as the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and English Premier League say they want to finish their seasons, the Dutch Eredivisie cut short its season on Friday and said there would be no title awarded and no relegations or promotions – a decision strongly criticised by some of the affected clubs.
France, where more than 23,000 deaths from coronavirus have been reported, on Tuesday announced its domestic sports leagues will end early, with exact details to be announced in the coming weeks.
“Shortly after UEFA giving this deadline, it became a moot point in France, but in England the uncertainly remains,” said Wellings.
“The Premier League are exploring the potential of football ‘behind closed doors’ in June and July. And it may not be clear for a while if these games meet the UK government’s strict safety requirements. It is an ambitious plan, and one which leaves Liverpool fans still hopeful of confirming their first league title for 30 years.”
UEFA has made it clear that it wants its member associations to complete their domestic seasons rather than abandon them. It also hopes to finish the Champions League and Europa League competitions.
Paris Saint-Germain, champions of France’s Ligue 1 in the 2018-19 season, will look at playing Champions League home matches in another country, the Ligue 1 club’s president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said on Tuesday.
PSG beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-2 on aggregate to reach the Champions League quarter-finals before the pandemic forced the suspension of the season – with the second leg in Paris having been played without fans in the stadium.