On Friday, the Premier League and UEFA became the latest to take action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All matches in England will be suspended until at least April 3, while all of next week’s games in the Champions League and Europa League have been called off.
“In this unprecedented situation, we are working closely with our clubs, Government, The FA and EFL and can reassure everyone the health and welfare of players, staff and supporters are our priority,” said Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters.
The move follows other decisions made by Football governing authorities in France, Italy, and Spain, while UEFA is to hold a meeting to discuss a possible delay to this summer’s European Championships until next year.
All authorities have expressed their wish to fulfil the remaining fixtures and competitions, but how great will the impact be on the world of sport?
The Italian football federation (FIGC) has admitted that the Serie A season might not finish, and said in a statement that they would be discussing several alternatives if games cannot be completed.
These options include:
- staging play-offs
- not having a champion for 2019-20
- declaring the current standings final
But everywhere you look there are arguments for and against each.
Liverpool lead the Premier League by a huge 25 points and need just 3 more wins in their quest to end a 30-year drought. But this unexpected and unprepared for health crisis has thrown the season’s conclusion into doubt.
A statement on the club website read: “Liverpool Football Club continues to implement the government’s advice on the coronavirus outbreak and welcomes today’s Premier League statement to postpone all games, including Premier League, FA Cup, academy and Women’s Super League fixtures in the best interests of players, staff and supporters.”
Any further measures are currently a matter of speculation.
When Euronews asked the English Premier League if it was considering the options suggested by the Italian Football Federation, they directed us to a statement they made earlier.
“Despite the challenges,” it reads, “it is the Premier League’s aim to reschedule the displaced fixtures, including those played by Academy sides, when it is safe to do so.
In this fast-moving environment, further updates will be provided when appropriate.”
Former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher tweeted that the next season of English football “can’t start” until the current season is complete.
The Liverpool FC website ‘This is Anfield’ has also stated that “the most logical step would be to push back future competitions to accommodate the conclusion of the current campaign”.
The Premier League battles to avoid relegation and clinch European football are much tighter, with AFC Bournemouth currently in the relegation zone on goal difference.
On the other hand Celtic captain Scott Brown, whose team currently enjoys a 13-point lead in the SPL has said that Scottish football season should finish “as it is” if the season ends prematurely.
In other European leagues, just two points separate Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of the Spanish La Liga, while the margin between Juventus and Lazio in Serie A is even smaller.
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the league title and relegation spot would both be decided on goal difference if the season were to conclude now.
Any decision to conclude the season with or without the usual consequences of titles, promotion, and relegation would likely be met with huge controversy.
Could divisional play-offs then be an answer?
The title winner in Italy was previously decided by a play-off in 1964 when Bologna beat Inter Milan after the two sides finished level on points.
The benefit to the leagues would be that this would limit any interruption to future fixtures and seasons, but, again, goes against all the hopes that authorities have of completing the games as intended.
But the reality is that there is no obvious model to follow.
Football competition across Europe was severely affected during and immediately after the Second World War.
The 1939-40 English Football League season was abandoned after just three matches, with Blackpool one point clear at the top of the First Division.
As the country’s focus shifted towards the war effort, regional league competitions were set up as an alternative and no title was awarded.
There have been more recent examples across Europe where trophies have been ownerless.
Juventus were stripped of their 2004-05 Serie A crown due to their involvement in the Calciopoli scandal (where fraudulent relationships between certain teams and certain referees were uncovered) and Olympique Marseille lost their 1992-93 French title over a bribery scandal.
But in both of these examples, the seasons had been concluded and no fixtures were abandoned.
In the US, where all major sports leagues have also been halted due to Coronavirus, there is another precedent for an unawarded champion.
The 1994 Major League Baseball season was suspended after around 70% of the season, due to a players’ strike.
No postseason games, including the World Series, were played and no trophy was therefore awarded.
The team with the best record at the time of the suspension was the Montreal Expos, who had never won a World Series in their history.
The 1995 MLB season was also shortened due to the players’ strike, and the Expos finished last in their division. The franchise relocated and became the Washington Nationals in 2004, who were eventually crowned World Series champions in 2019.
Halted by protests
But contrast that to Chile, when last season’s Campeonato Nacional football season was suspended in mid-October due to widespread anti-government demonstrations, with six fixtures still to be played.
When Chile’s football authorities voted to conclude the season in November following failed attempts to resume the season, the title was awarded to Club Deportivo Universidad Católica.
Universidad Católica had been leading the league by a comfortable, but not unassailable, 13 points at the time. Moreover, no teams were relegated to the second tier, Primera B, at the end of the season.
Instead, the top division was expanded in 2020 from 16 to 18 teams, with the top two teams from Primera B promoted.
This included second-place Deportivo La Serna, who would have qualified for a promotion playoff had the season been completed, and at the time of suspension, were ahead of third-place Ñublense by just one point.
The idea of expansion would prove an altogether different headache for European football authorities, but there is certainly precedent for ending the season now.