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French football stuck in limbo

PARIS • The French football league (LFP) is facing a number of issues, such as who will be named champions, after the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 campaigns seemingly ended on Tuesday night as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The LFP had been working towards a June 17 restart date – some three months after the country’s professional football leagues were put on ice on March 13 amid the Covid-19 crisis, with 10 to 11 rounds left to play.

However, France Prime Minister Edouard Philippe put paid to those plans, announcing that both competitions as well as other sports would not be able to resume before September due to restrictions in place to stem the spread of the disease.

He said: “To give event organisers visibility, I want to make it clear major sporting and cultural events, in particular… all events that bring together more than 5,000 participants… cannot be held before September.”

But Mr Philippe’s statement has caused confusion, with different parties interpreting the premature conclusion of one of European football’s “Big Five” leagues differently.

The French Sports Ministry told Agence France-Presse fixtures will not be able to take place behind closed doors before the end of July, leaving open the possibility some games can still be played in August.

A source also told AFP Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu had corroborated that stance with Ligue 1 club directors.

As such, Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas is hopeful the remaining top-flight matches can still be played, with even a series of play-offs to decide European places and relegation a possibility.

“Does this mean that the championship is over? I’m not sure,” he told AFP. “It’s necessary to do everything to find an alternative solution, by playing a certain number of play-offs during the month of August or postponing next season until Sept 15.”

With Lyon in seventh place on 40 points, 10 behind Rennes, who are in third and occupy the last Champions League qualifying spot, Aulas would obviously prefer the competition to carry on.

The LFP board will meet today to “study the sporting and economic consequences of the measures announced by the prime minister”, and clarify the immediate future of both leagues.

But as far as leaders Paris Saint-Germain are concerned, the championship is done and they are already exploring alternative venues to stage future Champions League home games.

BY ALL MEANS

It’s necessary to do everything to find an alternative solution, by playing a certain number of play-offs during the month of August or postponing next season until Sept 15.

JEAN-MICHEL AULAS, Lyon president, on his belief that the season should still be completed amid the pandemic.

The defending champions are 12 points clear of second-placed Marseille (56) with a match in hand and have already progressed to the quarter-finals of European football’s showpiece event.

No date has been scheduled for the resumption of the Champions League. But since their Parc des Princes stadium will not be able to host games as per Mr Philippe’s decree, Qatari-owned PSG are drawing up possible overseas venues.

But this could conflict with Uefa rules, which state its competitions must be played in Europe.

“We respect of course the French government’s decision,” PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi told local media. “We plan on competing in the Champions League… wherever and whenever it is held.

“If it is not possible to play in France, we will play our matches abroad, subject to the best conditions for our players and the safety of all our staff.”

French Football Federation president Noel le Graet also believes the league season is “definitively over”, with only two sides being relegated and vice versa. But he told local daily L’Equipe the finals of the French Cup and French League Cup might still go ahead in August behind closed doors.

The ban on the restart of French professional sports until September not only affects football and rugby, but also impacts cycling’s premier event, the Tour de France.

The race, which was originally set to start on June 27, has already been postponed to Aug 29 and organisers said that they were reviewing their arrangements on the number of spectators that can attend.

The Tour remains in doubt as fans lining its route is an enduring image and riders like 2018 winner Geraint Thomas of Team Ineos have been vocal in opposing a race without supporters.

Organisers also have another headache to deal with as it is unlikely the Criterium du Dauphine can take place. There had been plans to stage it in August and if the only warm-up race before the Tour falls by the wayside, riders will be without critical practice.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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