In Brief

Champions League chaos follows French football decision

Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon are still in Uefa’s main club competition

European football was thrown into chaos yesterday by two announcements that are likely to have far-reaching ramifications for the sport’s attempt to emerge from the coronavirus shutdown.

The first was the declaration by the French government that all professional sport is suspended in the country until September at the earliest. 

In a stroke the hopes of restarting Ligue 1 vanished and according to The Daily Telegraph the decision left Uefa and the French football federation “stunned”. Quite why they should have been so surprised isn’t clear.

Although some schools and shops in France are scheduled to reopen next month there will be strict rules in place, such as the observation of the two metre social distance and the wearing of masks at all times. 

The same regulations will apply on public transport when France emerges from its lockdown on 11 May.

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Delusional

Did French football seriously think it would be able to resume - as some had declared - in June without these rules in place?

Globally, sport, particularly football, has yet to produce a solution as to how competitions can resume without flouting these fundamental health and safety measures. 

The general public are unlikely to react favourably if they perceive post-lockdown there is one rule for them and another for football.

Furthermore, the French government was probably mindful of what happened on 11 March when Paris Saint-Germain played Borussia Dortmund in the Uefa Champions League. Although the match was played behind closed doors, thousands of fans congregated outside the Parc des Princes to celebrate long into the night. 

Football authorities and clubs the world over are deluding themselves if they think such scenes won’t be repeated if matches resumed over the summer.

Too great a risk

The French government’s decision is the right one, according to Fifa’s chief doctor, who has expressed his belief that scrapping this season would be best for the sport. 

“My proposal is if it is possible, avoid playing competitive football in the coming weeks,” said Michel d’Hooghe, the chair of Fifa’s medical committee. 

Expressing his “scepticism” about resuming competitions amid the coronavirus pandemic, d’Hooghe added: “There is a risk and it is not a risk that has small consequences. It can have consequences of life and death and that is why I am so careful and I ask everyone to be very careful before deciding to play again.”

The decision of the French government and d’Hooghe’s declaration piles the pressure on other countries, as well as Uefa, who from the outset has appeared unwavering in its determination to complete the Champions League and Europa League seasons. 

PSG defiance

The Telegraph says the French decision “throws into turmoil” their plans given that PSG are already in the Champions League quarter-finals while Lyon are 1-0 up on aggregate against Juventus after the round of 16 first leg. 

PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi issued a defiant statement shortly after the government’s announcement, saying: “We respect of course the French government decision – we plan on competing in the Champions League with Uefa agreement – wherever and whenever it is held. 

“If it is not possible to play in France we will play our matches abroad subject to the best conditions for our players and the safety of all our staff.”

Al-Khelaifi may have to run that idea by the French government. Last week Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned the country that travelling abroad may not be possible for several months, and he’s shown he is not a man to kowtow to the football dollar.

Today’s back pages

Is the Premier League restart a pipe dream?

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