KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The attempt by European federation UEFA to hold back the gradual erosion of the current season has been breached.
The European federation has staged its latest video conference involving all 55 national associations without being able to nail down anything further concerning a return to action, even behind closed doors.
This is not the fault of UEFA or its president Aleksander Ceferin. They are at the mercy of events dictated by the coronavirus pandemic and the varying pace and manner of the lifting of lockdown and travel restrictions by different national governments and health authorities.
Ceferin’s preoccupation is to see domestic competitions completed by the end of at least July so that UEFA can wrap up its financially important Champions and Europa Leagues the following month while computing a ‘sensible’ draw for the 2020-21 tournaments.
However it has been been forced to retreat from the earlier prohibition of the abandonment of league competitions.
Belgium started what promises to be an eventual avalanche and, while UEFA was meeting, so the Dutch government was announcing no professional football until at least September.
Already several Dutch clubs, led by Ajax Amsterdam, had urged the league to declare a formal halt.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed the sports suspension in an announcement that primary schools will reopen after the May holiday, the reopening of secondary education in June but prohibition of all large public events until September 1, including professional football.
Rutte said: “This coronavirus crisis is one of the most substantial, most gripping, and most troubling periods that any of us will ever experience. I’ve been struggling with you for the past few days. We don’t want the virus to resurface.
“All measures can only be reversed gradually and then every step must be clear. I understand the impatience, but a rapid relaxation ensures that the virus can peak again, in a second wave . . . One person’s freedom should not be at the expense of another’s health.”
The Dutch KNVB, accepted – probably with some relief – that the decision had been taken out of its hands.
A statement said: “No professional football can be played, even without an audience, until Sept. 1. As a result, the board of professional football intends not to continue playing the 2019-20 league.
“Based on the government’s decision today, the KNVB will consult with UEFA after which a decision will be confirmed. On Friday, the clubs and other parties involved will meet to discuss the consequences.”
UEFA’s strategy has been complicated by the absence of a unified pattern across Europe.
Scotland is likely to call a halt later this week but Italy’s top clubs have voted in favour of resuming the season at a date yet to be set. The German leagues are ready to resume on May 9 with appropriate medical protocols and behind closed doors while the Faroe Islands will also resume on that date with spitting prohibited.
Football in Sweden, a country which has taken a notably more relaxed approach to public health restrictions, will start again on June 14 with fans present.
A UEFA statement has conceded that it would have no option but to accept a seasonal cessation dictated by local events.
As far as UEFA’s own competitions are concerned, optimistic reports from Italy and Spain suggested that tentative dates have been reached for completion of the Champions League in August, as follows:
Aug 7: Juventus v Lyon, Manchester City v Real Madrid
Aug 8: Bayern Munich v Chelsea, Barcelona v Napoli.
Aug 11-12 and 14-15: Quarter-finals
Aug 18-19 and 21-22: Semi-finals
Final : Aug 29 (Istanbul).
** UEFA’s executive committee is expected to confirm that the next Women’s European Championship in England, originally scheduled for next year, will be played from July 6-31, 2022.
UEFA’s statement after Tuesday’s meeting said:
UEFA today met its 55 member associations via videoconference and presented an update of the options being looked into by the two working groups that were created mid-March.
A variety of calendar options were presented covering both national team and club competition matches.
The funding of National Associations through UEFA’s HatTrick programme was also discussed with UEFA reiterating its commitment to meeting the payments to member associations as planned.
There was a strong recommendation given to finish domestic top division and cup competitions, but some special cases will be heard once guidelines concerning participation to European competitions – in case of a cancelled league – have been developed.
Any decisions on the above topics would be announced after the UEFA Executive Committee on Thursday.