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English and European football may shut down for the season

UEFA will decide next Tuesday on several scenarios.

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LASK v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Round of 16: First Leg Photo by UEFA - Handout/UEFA via Getty Images

In case you haven’t heard, read or saw, earlier this morning the Premier League (and the rest of English football) announced that it will be suspending all matches until April 4th, in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus that is gripping the world.

Although that April 4th date (April 3rd for EFL) is only two weeks away, it is very optimistic. According to several reports, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and multiple other countries have yet to begin to see the worst part of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Bottom line, it’s going to get worse,” Anthony Fauci, the long-standing director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified at a US Congress special session on the outbreak.

That news doesn’t bode well for fans of any of the sports halted by the virus. Now, the question is, if play doesn’t resume in April, when will it?

According to the Times UK, during this morning’s meeting on the future of the Premier League, FA chairman Greg Clarke has told the Premier League that he does not think the domestic football season will be completed and a source close to discussions told The Independent that the “idea we are going to be playing by then is ludicrous.”

Play is scheduled to start after the international break but it appears the chances of that happening are slim at best.

The decision to return to the field will ultimately lie with UEFA, and next Tuesday UEFA is due to meet with its 55 member associations, the boards of the European Club Association and the European Leagues and a representative of FIFPro to work out a strategy for moving forward.

One possible outcome of the meeting is that UEFA will postpone the European Championship, Champions League, Europa League, and propose a continent-wide shutdown and start fresh in September.

That opens up even more questions in terms of relegation, promotion, contracts, and league champions. Not to mention on the fan side in terms of ticket refunds, people employed by the teams, stadiums, vendors — the list goes on and on.

In theory, the top-tier teams in England are “safe” financially if play doesn’t return until September, but smaller lower division teams who are surviving on match day incomes could go out of business if the season is done today.

This is one reason why the EFL were said to be particularly intent on finishing the season, for the welfare of their clubs as mentioned in their joint prepared statement — alongside the Premier League, FA, and WSL — on Friday.

“Despite the challenges, 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.”

Unfortunately, there isn’t a blueprint or procedure in place to account for a global health scare and stoppage of play. Coming from the meeting this morning, three possible situations are being suggested:

  1. Finishing this season whenever play is safe to resume, even though it could overlap into the scheduled start of next season.
  2. Assume play is able to restart soon, end the season in May as originally scheduled (or not much later), and minimize disruption by rescheduling the postponed fixtures.
  3. Canceling the season altogether.

As Friday 13th proved to truly be an unlucky day for soccer fans, Tuesday the 17th could be a lot worse if UEFA does suspend the season until September. Until then, all we can do is wash our hands, watch highlights of past matches, and hope.

Stay safe!