Football - European Championship postponed; what next for the domestic game?
Among the plethora of events falling victim to the onset of Covid-19 is, inevitably, the Euro 2020 football tournament. The European football governing body, UEFA, are to be commended for acting quickly and setting a lead for others to follow, most especially each countries' domestic leagues, all of which have been suspended because of the outbreak. Euro 2020 now becomes Euro 2021 and will be held in June and July of next year instead. Which does of course, raise the immediate question of when to complete the leagues now held in limbo?
Above - Brighton & Hove Albion's Amex Stadium, like all others, lies empty and unused.
We cannot of course, comment on what happens elsewhere but as far as the English game is concerned, it seems that certain 'top' clubs are not averse to ending the season now, with league positions as they currently are being declared the final positions. Whether this is true or not is also something we cannot comment on but there would seem to be an obvious solution.
Football is currently suspended until April but conventional wisdom has it that it will not restart then. If not (and it is unlikely) then 'sometime later' in 2020 it must be. For to declare the season over when it is not, would be a gross act of unfairness to every club in the land, including Liverpool.
Liverpool's grasp in the title of English champions is theirs to lose and it is most probable that they will be winners with games to spare. But winning is done over a season, a full season, whatever its intended length at the start of it. Liverpool cannot really be champions now and for them to be declared so artificially would be a denigration of a great club that has not been champions for too long. The club deserve the opportunity to pick where things were left and to be crowned by right, not by declaration.
The biggest unfairness however, and one that goes to the heart of sporting achievement - at any level - lies lower down the tables. To relegate Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich now would be such an injustice that all three clubs would be entirely justified in seeking legal redress, an action they they would undoubtedly win. The game is littered with last-gasp survival as teams win just enough games late on to stay in their division. All three clubs in the bottom three positions at the moment have the right to save themselves.
This also affects promotion. Leeds United were odds-on to make the Premier League last season – they didn’t. Granted they may well not turn down the opportunity to go up prematurely just in case they should fall away a second time (and it has happened to others as well as to Leeds last time) but it would be a hollow elevation. Like Liverpool, Leeds United is a great club but must achieve what they do through their acts on the field of play.
So if not ending the season now, what does one do? There is an obvious solution; cancel next season, 2020-2021 now.
Although that might seem a little dramatic, what it does is allow time to complete, in full, the existing season. It provides clarity and clear direction, allowing football to plan accordingly, not just from the playing point of view but the financial one as well. Clubs can settle their budgets well in advance and most importantly, it allows time to create a plan that ensures catastrophic shut-downs like the present one do not happen again.
One lesson that must be learned is the fragility of the way we do things. There have been pandemics before, and many of them. But none have ever had such a shattering impact as Covid-19. None have led to what amounts to a worldwide shutdown of everyday life. It follows therefore that reasonable, rational and practical measures are needed to ensure that when the next pandemic comes along – as it will and as such things always have – life can go on.
So what of next season? What do clubs do? There are obvious things; short leagues, with no promotion or relegation; everybody knows where they stand and somebody will still be a champion. The FA Cup and Carabao Cup can still be played for. The European club competitions can still be played with this season’s qualifications in place and there will be time to determine how next season’s qualifications will be settled.
A short season can also end a little earlier than a normal one so players that pick up injuries may have greater time to recover. The means to get something done is always present. One just has to look for it.
© Kevan James 2020
UEFA today announced the postponement of its flagship national team competition, UEFA EURO 2020, due to be played in June and July this year. The health of all those involved in the game is the priority, as well as to avoid placing any unnecessary pressure on national public services involved in staging matches. The move will help all domestic competitions, currently on hold due to the COVID-19 emergency, to be completed.
All UEFA competitions and matches (including friendlies) for clubs and national teams for both men and women have been put on hold until further notice. The UEFA EURO 2020 play-off matches and international friendlies, scheduled for the end of March, will now be played in the international window at the start of June, subject to a review of the situation.
A working group has been set up with the participation of leagues and club representatives to examine calendar solutions that would allow for the completion of the current season and any other consequence of the decisions made today.
The decisions, taken by UEFA's Executive Committee, followed video conference meetings held today with the presidents and general secretaries of the 55 national associations, as well as representatives of the European Club Association, European Leagues and FIFPro Europe, convened by UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin, to find a coherent plan to break the logjam of fixtures building up due to the spread of the virus across the continent.
Announcing the decisions, Aleksander Čeferin said: "We are at the helm of a sport that vast numbers of people live and breathe that has been laid low by this invisible and fast-moving opponent. It is at times like these that the football community needs to show responsibility, unity, solidarity and altruism.
"The health of fans, staff and players has to be our number one priority and, in that spirit, UEFA tabled a range of options so that competitions can finish this season safely and I am proud of the response of my colleagues across European football. There was a real spirit of cooperation, with everyone recognising that they had to sacrifice something in order to achieve the best result.
"It was important that, as the governing body of European football, UEFA led the process and made the biggest sacrifice. Moving EURO 2020 comes at a huge cost for UEFA but we will do our best to ensure that the vital funding for grassroots, women's football and the development of the game in our 55 countries is not affected. Purpose over profit has been our guiding principle in taking this decision for the good of European football as a whole.
"Football is an uplifting and powerful force in society. The thought of celebrating a pan-European festival of football in empty stadia, with deserted fan zones while the continent sits at home in isolation, is a joyless one and one we could not accept to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the competition.
"I would like to thank the European Club Association, the European Leagues and FIFPro Europe for their great work today and for their cooperation. I would also like to thank from the bottom of my heart the 55 national associations, their presidents and general secretaries, and my colleagues from the Executive Committee for their support and wise decisions. The fine detail will be worked out in the coming weeks but the basic principles have been agreed and that is a major step forward. We have all shown that we are responsible leaders. We have demonstrated solidarity and unity. Purpose over profit. We've achieved this today.
"I would also like to thank Alejandro Domínguez and CONMEBOL, who have agreed to move CONMEBOL's 2020 Copa America in order to follow the recommendations issued by the international public health organisations to enact extreme measures and as a result of EURO 2020 being postponed. This means that clubs and leagues in Europe will have as little disruption as possible in the availability of their players. These joint efforts and especially this coordinated and responsible decision, are deeply appreciated by the whole European football community.
"I would like to thank FIFA and its President, Gianni Infantino, who has indicated it will do whatever is required to make this new calendar work. In the face of this crisis, football has shown its best side with openness, solidarity and tolerance."
UEFA EURO 2020 was scheduled to take place in 12 cities across Europe from 12 June to 12 July 2020. The proposed new dates are 11 June to 11 July 2021. UEFA would like to reassure existing ticket buyers and hospitality clients that if they cannot attend the tournament in 2021, the face value of their tickets and packages will be refunded in full. Within the next month, further information on the refund process will be communicated to existing ticket buyers via email and on euro2020.com/tickets.
Decisions on dates for other UEFA competitions, whether club or national team for men or women, will be taken and announced in due course.
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