Uefa open to closed-doors competitions; English clubs and players at odds over wage cuts
European club competitions may have to be concluded behind closed doors this season, but there is also the possibility they could be cancelled completely because of the coronavirus restrictions, according to Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin.
As with domestic leagues in most of Europe, the 2019-20 Champions League and Europa League are presently suspended amid the pandemic, with no dates set for their resumption or the finals, which were originally scheduled for late-May.
However, Uefa is eager to complete the competitions, and has some leeway after postponing the European Championships by a year to 2021, albeit there remains uncertainty over the full impact and length of the health emergency, which has resulted in lockdowns and travel restrictions in many countries, and many leagues may have to resume without spectators.
Ceferin told German public-service broadcaster ZDF: “The fact is that we really don’t know much. We are waiting for the development of this terrible situation in the world, and mainly in Europe. Football isn’t the same without fans… it is definitely better to play with fans than without fans.
“It is still better to play the game behind closed doors and have it on TV, which is what the people need and want because it brings positive energy to their homes, than not playing at all. That’s what the people want, that brings positive energy, and it will be July or August. We can’t play it out in September or October.”
Asked if this season’s Champions League and Europa League competitions may have to be abandoned, Ceferin said: “If the authorities do not allow us to play, then we cannot play.”
Uefa, which has appointed two working groups, one covering scheduling and the other focused on financial issues, to consider the impact of the pandemic, has denied reports that the Champions League has to be concluded by 3 August.
With no end in sight to the emergency, Uefa last Wednesday postponed international matches scheduled for June, including qualifying play-offs for the delayed Euro 2020, and postponed or cancelled several age group national teams competitions.
On Friday, Fifa followed suit, with the postponement of men’s and women’s internationals in June, plus the Under-20 Women’s World Cup, which was due to take place in Panama and Costa Rica in August and September, and the Under-17 Women’s World Cup, earmarked for India in November, with new dates to be announced in due course.
These decisions were recommended by a working group established by the bureau of the Fifa council and comprising representatives of the international governing body and the confederations.
There will be discussions between Fifa and the confederations over a revised schedule for qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup.
Meanwhile, following the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games until next year, it has been decided that the eligibility criteria for players in the men’s Olympic soccer tournament is to remain the same, meaning that squads can include players born on or after 1 January 1997, and three older players.
This means that the tournament becomes a predominantly under-24 rather than an under-23 event.
Elsewhere, it has emerged that Fifa has drawn up guidelines for soccer clubs and bodies looking to cut costs during the current stoppage.
There have been clashes between the sport’s authorities and players in various countries over proposed wage cuts, with England being a prime example.
The internal paper from the coronavirus working group, seen by Reuters, notes that laws will differ from nation to nation, but recommends a level of consistency, while urging clubs, leagues and players to reach “appropriate collective agreements.”
It adds that the guiding principles behind these deals should be to “guarantee some form of salary payment to players and coaches, avoid litigation, protect contractual stability, and ensure clubs do not go bankrupt, while considering the financial impact of COVID-19 on clubs.”
The document summarising the proposals will be submitted to the bureau of the Fifa council for approval.
Fifa is already in the process of establishing a global support fund for soccer to address the coronavirus, and it has been agreed that each confederation will provide one official to coordinate with the governing body on this subject, with the working group to be kept updated on developments.
England and Italy A conference call involving representatives and captains and managers of English Premier League clubs on Saturday ended with no agreement reached on pay cuts while the 2019-20 season remains suspended indefinitely.
The Premier League clubs have warned the Professional Footballers’ Association they face losing £1.137 billion ($1.399 billion) because of the stoppage caused by the pandemic, and requested the players agree to a 30-per-cent reduction in wages.
However, while willing to consider lower income during the emergency, the players argue that the proposed measure would cut tax payments by £200 million and have a detrimental impact on the National Health Service at this time.
Several clubs with wealthy owners, including Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, have come in for criticism for placing non-playing staff on furlough to claim 80 per cent of wages from a government scheme established to relieve companies and employees during the pandemic.
The Premier League is eager to complete the season in order to avoid having to pay out £762 million to domestic and international broadcasting partners for untelevised matches.
It was reported yesterday that the league was in talks with the UK government over a potential resumption in June, with matches likely to be played without spectators, although this will depend on an improvement in the health situation.
Uefa has approved a request from England’s Football Association and the Scottish Football Association to lift their bans on fixtures being televised in the blackout window of 2.45pm to 5.15pm on Saturday for the rest of this season so that fans can watch any games played behind closed doors at that time.
Meanwhile, Gabriele Gravina, the president of the FIGC, the Italian soccer federation, has claimed that the suspended 2019-20 Serie A campaign could be extended to September or October, in part to avoid legal action resulting from cancelling the season.
Italy has been one of the countries most affected by the pandemic, with almost 16,000 deaths, and a imminent resumption of soccer is unlikely.
Gravina told Italian broadcaster Rai: “The only serious way to handle a serious emergency of this kind is to complete the 2019-2020 season competitions this year. We are working on a whole series of possible solutions to manage the situation in the best possible way.
"Could it finish in September or October? That is one hypothesis. It's a way to avoid jeopardising not only the 2019-20 season but also the 2020-21 season."
He added that if the current season was abandoned, Italian soccer could suffer “an avalanche of litigation to which we would be subjected by all those who could be considered damaged in their rights and interests."
This could include claims from relegated teams or those that miss out on qualifying for Europe.
Gravina said: “We would really run the risk of the championship taking place only in the courtrooms."
Last week, Uefa urged its 55 member nations not to cancel their respective seasons and to continue to explore ways to conclude their campaigns.
It is believed the governing body has warned all European leagues that their teams could be excluded from competing in the Champions League and Europa League if their seasons are not finished.
In relation to this, Uefa held a remote meeting with Belgium's Pro League and URBSAFA, the national federation, after the league's board recommended that the 2019-20 season be terminated. A further meeting to discuss the issue has been scheduled for Friday.