KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Finally UEFA has had to hold up its hands and concede what was always, obviously, inevitable: some league programmes will have to be abandoned.
The European federation had tried, Canute-like, to hold back the tidal impact of coronavirus on football. Perhaps it had been blinded to the game’s real value in society by its high visibility and overblown imagery.
No pretence now.
UEFA’s executive committee initially prohibited leagues from winding up early. But, in any case and for all sorts of reaasons – almost all of them financial – no national federation or league had wanted that anyway.
But if a government says football is off, then football is off. UEFA’s opinion matters not a jot.
Today UEFA’s executive committee presided over by Aleksander Ceferin, conceded that leagues might have to stop under force majeure: meaning, either government and health authority order or the risk of financial collapse.
The urgency for a resolution has been growing by the day because the deadline was approaching by which UEFA needed, for its own specific purposes – never mind national leagues and cups – to fulfill its own minimum contractual obligations to broadcasters and sponsors and come up with the line-up for next season’s Champions League and Europa League.
Whenever next season takes place, that is.
Entries for both competitions should be “based on sporting merit” which appears self-evident.
UEFA’s hand had been forced, ahead of a video-conference with its national associations earlier this week, by the decision of the Belgian league – swiftly followed by the Netherlands while others, more timid, waited in the wings – to call a halt where competition had been terminated by the pandemic.
The federation’s difficulty in reaching any view at all was not its fault. The situation is unprecedented – to use an overworked expression – and the path ahead is open to guesswork.
Germany and Italy want to restart behind closed doors, largely for financial reasons, while England’s Premier League appears frightened out of its wits by the avenging accountants of the TV companies.
A long communique after the exco set out the new status quo based on the conclusions of working groups featuring input from the European Club Association, European Leagues and players’ union FIFPRO Europe.
Ideally they envisaged domestic football restarting before the UEFA club competitions in August. Whether that is realistic is anyone’s guess.
UEFA is urging national associations and leagues “to explore all possible options to play all top domestic competitions to their natural conclusion.” However it acknowledged that “the health of players, spectators and all those involved in football as well as the public at large must remain the primary concern at this time.”
Leagues would be free to “restart with a different format” but even that might not be possible in the event of “an official order prohibiting sports events . . . in good time” as well as “economic problems which make finishing the season impossible.”
UEFA entry clubs should then be nominated “based on objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles.”
*The postponed UEFA Euro 2020 will still be known by the same name despite taking place in 2021.
*Prospects for the European Under-21 Championship will be decided by the next meeting of the exco on May 27.