This weekend will be the first one where top flight football will be played in a major European League ever since the Covid-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt. The Bundesliga will resume tomorrow (May 16), with games to be played without fans in the stands. While the situation is not ideal, it remains the only way to settle the league fairly.
Some countries have decided to cancel their leagues altogether, resulting in mixed reactions since there can be no fair ending to a season unless it’s completely played out.
France canceled Ligue 1 at the recommendation of the Sports Minister and Paris St Germain, who were leading by 12 points, were given the title. Runners up Olympique de Marseille, absent from the Champions League since 2014, obtained a spot in Europe’s most prestigious tournament. Other teams who were in the battle for relegation or those who were hoping to catch up on a lucrative Champions League place in the final stages of Ligue 1, like Jean-Michel Aulas’ Olympique Lyonnais, felt this decision was not the right one. Some clubs have even threatened lawsuits against the league. Affaire a suivre.
The Dutch league was also canceled after the government announced a 3-month ban on all sporting events but leaders Ajax were not granted the title. They were top of the league only due to them boasting a better goal difference than AZ Alkmaar. In this case, there was no champion appointed and also no relegation or promotion, meaning the 2019-2020 is being treated as if it never happened. While this might sound marginally fairer than the situation in France, it is not equitable for the teams which were about to be promoted to the top flight.
As for the Belgian league, initially it was announced that the league would be canceled and Club Brugge would be made champions. The scenario would have been similar to the one in France. However, the decision has not been ratified yet. Even though the announcement was made weeks ago, the general assembly only meets today (May 15) to make final decisions on the best way to end the league.
Meanwhile, Serie A are also making plans for a return, even though Italy is one of the worse affected countries in the world during this pandemic. Sixteen Serie A teams voted to resume the league on June 13th. While the Italian Football Federation has an agreement with the Sports Ministry on the medical protocol to resume training, the continuation of the league itself has not been approved yet. The Italian Prime Minister intends to approve or cancel the proposal himself, based on the Covid-19 curve in the next few weeks.
Another country which has been rocked by Covid-19 as much as Italy is probably Spain but that is not stopping them from attempting to resume football either. League President Javier Tebas mentioned La Liga teams can now start training again, with the goal of resuming the league mid-June, assuming of course that the relevant health authorities give it the go-ahead.
Last but not least, the English Premier League is in talks with clubs for what has been dubbed as “Project Restart”. If the proposal were approved, the EPL would be back around the same time as La Liga and Serie A. The Championship, England’s second tier, could be back even earlier.
While fans would surely welcome the return of football, even if it’s behind closed doors, some players and managers have responded negatively to leagues being resumed too quickly.
The proponents of resumption are backing themselves up by claiming the return of football will boost morale around the world, allow teams to improve their financial situation and provide a resonable ending to the season. The other side argues that the health of clubs’ staff and their families should not be risked. If by mid-June, the pandemic is not under control, then they do not want to see leagues restart, no matter how much precaution is taken.
For now, thanks to Germany’s positive response to Covid-19, the Bundesliga is allowed to restart. Dortmund take on Schalke at home tomorrow (May 16) and Leipzig welcome Freiburg. Leaders Bayern Munich go to Union on Sunday, hoping to continue with the momentum they had before the pause.
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