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French league cancelled as FIFA medical chief and Italian sports minister warn against swift return for football

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The English Premier League has been put on indefinite hold. Photo: PA

The English Premier League has been put on indefinite hold. Photo: PA

PA

The English Premier League has been put on indefinite hold. Photo: PA

The French league season has been cancelled after prime minister Edouard Philippe confirmed matches would not be allowed to resume amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

French football chiefs have yet to decide whether to award the league title to runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain or follow the Dutch route of not declaring champions for this season after their league was cancelled last week.

The news will fuel suspicions that UEFA are facing an almost impossible task to finish their cup competitions, with French champions PSG and Lyon both still competing in this season's Champions League.

UEFA chiefs had urged Europe's top leagues to try and find a way to finish their current seasons and requested that all member nations need to submit their plans by May 25th, with England's Premier League clubs hopeful of restarting this summer after receiving government backing to resume if the conditions are suitable.

Detailed planning has gone into attempts to kick-start the Premier League campaign that was stalled in March, with several clubs looking to return to training next week ahead of a possible resumption in early June.

Yet confirmation that the top two leagues in France have now been cancelled, with prime minister Edouard Philippe announcing football games – even behind closed doors – will not be allowed before September could have a big impact on decisions across the European game.

"The big sporting affairs cannot occur before September. The 2019-20 football season cannot return," said Philippe. "It will not be possible to practice sport in covered places, nor team or contact sports. If the (health) indicators are not there, we will not end confinement on May 11."

The news in France followed comments from FIFA's medical chief Michel D'Hooghe urging nations not to rush football back for commercial reasons, as he suggested playing matches this summer may be a risk.

"We are all subject to decisions at national level from the public authorities. It is very simple. Football suddenly becomes not the most important thing in life," D'Hooghe told the Telegraph.

'I will be happy if we can start, in a convenient way, the next championship and have nothing before the start of next season.

"If they could start the season 2020/21 end of August or beginning of September I would be happy. Then they could eventually avoid a second attack from the virus, which is not impossible.

"Everyone has to be very careful for the moment. I have heard in many countries they are thinking about playing football again, with or without the public.

"In my long career I have seen many situations where there has been a balance between economic and health. Mostly the economics won, whether that was about jetlag or football at altitude or in extreme conditions such as pollution situations.

"If there is one circumstance where medical arguments should win against economical arguments, it is now. It is not a matter of money, it is a matter of life and death. It is very simple."

Meanwhile, Italy's minister for sport Vincenzo Spadafora has suggested it would be 'much easier' if the Serie A season did not resume, despite attempts to re-start matches in June.

After tentative plans were put in place Italy's top tier clubs will be permitted to resume training on May 18th, Spadafora has now suggested he has doubts about the future of the football season in a country that has been hit hard by the Covid-19 virus.

"Resumption must be gradual," Spadafora said on Facebook. "Opinion polls would like football to stop here. I'm not a person who gets influenced by opinion polls. I don't decide along the lines of common sentiment. It would be much easier to end the season immediately and the scientific community would agree.

"Carrying on the world of football is a very important thing for our country, but we must do it safely. Remember when Serie A didn't stop? How many teams have gone into quarantine? The (Italian Football Federation) FIGC submitted a protocol and it was considered."

The Italian government led by President Guiseppe Conte would need to give a green light to any plan for a return to action in Serie A and Spadafora has questioned whether the financial cost of meeting the criteria for a return will be manageable for clubs, especially in Italy's lower leagues.

"Today we're at the end of April, we can't know for sure how the virus will evolve and how the rules will be respected, therefore we can't know when the season will resume.

"We'll find out at a later date when we have the data from the implementation of the protocol. The protocol has very high costs, how will Serie B find it?" he asked.

"It's not true that there isn't full consistency with the words of President Conte and my own. Claims of a plot against Serie A are ridiculous and whoever says there is one is just as ridiculous. We've been working to resume training from May 18, but that doesn't mean the leagues will start up again."

Germany look set to be the first country to resume matches, with Bundesliga clubs already in training ahead of a return to action on May 9th.

Arsenal have already opened their training ground for players to return and Tottenham have now followed suit, yet the developments in France and at FIFA HQ are certain to intensify the spotlight on the Premier League as they stage their next meeting with all 20 of their members this Friday.

Online Editors