It is no secret what we are all going through right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has put the entire world in a frenzy and is seemingly not going to slow down for the foreseeable future.
As a result, all of the major sports leagues across the globe have suspended play indefinitely and are beginning to work on contingency plans assuming things begin to get better. This has been the case for the five major European leagues and UEFA competitions.
UEFA has been working closely with the English Premier League, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1, and Spanish La Liga, among others to find a way to continue the season. This serves as a way to properly crown league champions, decide the Champions League and Europa League qualifiers for next season, and continue the current UEFA competitions for this year.
There have been many obstacles in the way of continuing the year, though. Leagues have agreed that these matches would have to be played in empty stadiums and/or at a neutral venue that is to be revealed just before kickoff as a way to avoid having a large gathering of supporters outside of the grounds.
Also, these leagues would need to be legally allowed to continue per their nation’s government as made abundantly clear by UEFA. Many of these countries have imposed incredibly strict social distancing measures, as their nations have been hit the hardest by the virus (i.e. Italy, Spain).
The legality of resuming play has already forced two major players to officially cancel their seasons – France and the Netherlands. The Dutch Eredivisie cancelled their season after the government banned all sporting events until September 1, which would typically be around when the next season would commence.
The Dutch FA decided that the year would be cancelled without naming a champion or any relegated clubs – making it a clean scrap. The situation in France was a bit different as Ligue 1 cancelled their season naming Paris Saint-Germain champions, while also qualifying Marseille and Rennes for next year’s Champions League and relegating Toulouse, Amiens, and Nimes.
The cancellation of these two leagues presents even more pressure on the entirety of European soccer. In the case of the EPL, French officials are calling for the cancellation of their season deeming their more lackadaisical approach to banning sporting events as concerning. In addition, players such as Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero have come out publicly with their concern to quickly resume play.
He mentioned, “The majority of players are scared because they have family, they have children…it does scare me.” This concern also lines up with the fact that the English FA and Premier League officials are reportedly set on the idea of confining all players and clubs to a neutral site without fans as the way to complete the season (similar to what the NBA is proposing).
In Germany, the government has truly begun to “normalize,” by lowering many of the restrictions imposed during the first few months of the pandemic. As a result, Bundesliga clubs have begun both individual and team training sessions at their respective grounds. This might seem like a true positive for those desperate for sports to start back up, but these clubs and players are facing a real consequence – an uptick in coronavirus cases.
German club FC Köln have just confirmed three positive coronavirus tests among members of the team, and that number is sure to grow. A second division club, Erzgebirge Aue, put its entire squad in home isolation after a member of their staff tested positive. These are just two of many more instances of an uptick in positive tests that are bound to come in the near future.
The point I want to make is that with everything mentioned above, restarting the European soccer season among all these nations seems like a logistical nightmare. From the neutral venues, to the impending second wave, and the players being legitimately scared to resume play, I believe that cancellation is best approach to take. Even if play restarts in empty stadiums, the games will not be the same.
As seen by the Champions League match between PSG and Borussia Dortmund in February, that was played in an empty stadium, and the quality of play was not there. Players seemed lost, the game was barely watchable, and the lack of atmosphere made it unappealing.
I would argue that the fans have the greatest effect on both the quality of play and the sport as a whole in soccer more than any other sport in the world. It is through the chants, visuals, and overall atmosphere presented by these clubs’ “ultras” that makes soccer that most popular and arguably most enjoyable sport in the world.
If you strip the game from its fans, the quality of play goes down, and the matches become boring and at times unwatchable. If these leagues cared about preserving what makes soccer, soccer, they would understand that cancellation rather than rushed return to play is the way to go.
It is also the morally just decision to make, as many of the limited COVID-19 testing kits will not be taken from those that need it the most and given to teams to use at their disposal. It also does not incentivize fans to congregate and break social distancing to watch a match that isn’t genuine.
In short, the five major European soccer leagues and UEFA should cancel the remainder of the 2020 season and prioritize their efforts to bringing a 2021 campaign that stays true to the tradition of the sport and allows the world to recoup from this pandemic.