Italian minister and Man United chief raise doubts over league resumptions
The Italian sports minister has questioned whether the Serie A soccer season can be completed this season.
The league hopes to resume in June, most likely with matches behind closed doors because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but Vincenzo Spadafora (pictured) said yesterday: “I see the path to restarting Serie A getting ever narrower.”
Last weekend, Giuseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, announced that, as lockdown measures are relaxed, professional sports teams can resume training on 18 May, raising the prospect that the 2019-20 league campaign could restart in mid-June.
However, Spadafora believes that Serie A may have to follow other prominent European leagues and terminate its season.
He told Italian television channel La7: “I always said that resuming training absolutely does not mean resuming the season. I understand some people saying but that leaves us with uncertainty. If we don’t want uncertainty then we need to follow other countries which have already shut down everything.
“Honestly, I see the path to restarting Serie A getting ever narrower. Resuming training is an important sign but if I was among the presidents of the soccer teams I would be thinking about next season.”
Earlier this week, the French government extended its ban on major events until September, prompting the termination of the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons, and Spadafora said such moves “could push Italy and other European countries to follow that line.”
Serie A’s governing body is due to hold an emergency meeting, via video conference, on Friday.
Spadafora said on Wednesday: “Having read what some people have said, we could have a surprise after the league meets because I think there could be a majority of presidents ready to ask for the season to be ended so they can best prepare for next season.”
The Serie A campaign has been suspended since 9 March, and 12 rounds of matches have still to be completed.
With continued uncertainty over the health and testing protocols that would need to be in place for games to be held, Spadafora said: “I can’t say today whether the season will resume in mid June. From now until then it’s a month and a half, so time enough that we can hope the country is much better, but we can’t have any certainty. I appeal to the league and to the federation: start thinking about a plan B.”
England’s Premier League, also suspended since early March, is thought to be hoping to resume its season at some point in June, although Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman of top club Manchester United, is the latest senior figure to question whether a resumption, even behind closed doors, will be possible this summer.
The UK government has been speaking to the league about a return in the coming months but the so-called 'Project Restart' is dependent on a lifting of the current lockdown restrictions and the imposition of health protocols.
In a fans’ forum conference call yesterday, Woodward said: “From a UK perspective there is still huge uncertainty so we will keep fans informed as soon as decisions are made.
“We've got to have clarity on what the future holds. What will happen with the remainder of this season? What is the impact on next season? Is it behind closed doors or in front of fans? What's the impact on broadcast deals, sponsorship deals? What's the impact on domestic cups?
“We don't yet know what's going to happen with regards to the FA Cup. We're obviously still in that [this season] in the quarter-finals. What's going to happen to that next season if the season is truncated a little bit to squeeze in Premier League games? Does that have a knock-on on domestic cups? There are many, many moving parts.”
Some of the 20 Premier League teams have now reopened their training grounds for limited sessions, and there will be a video conference meeting of the clubs tomorrow to discuss the next steps.
Woodward added that Manchester United were “not necessarily happy” about the prospect of games being played without spectators but admits this may be necessary.
He said: “No decisions have been made yet but we think it is possible that the initial games, particularly the ones related to finishing or trying to complete this season, will probably have to be played behind closed doors.
“We're not necessarily happy about that - clearly football requires our fans in the stadium for it to be complete - but public health must come first and... this is down to the government. It's important to get back to playing football and complete this season once it's safe to do so.”
Elsewhere, the OFB, the Austrian football federation, has approved a possible extension of the country’s top-tier Bundesliga until the end of July.
The Austrian season was due to culminate on 30 June at the latest but has been pushed back a month because of delays prompted by the pandemic.
The move has been welcomed by Bundesliga chairman Christian Ebenbauer but no date has been set for the resumption of matches, with the official saying: "It is first of all necessary whether and under what conditions the government allows team training and championship games.”
The German Bundesliga is aiming to be the first major soccer league to resume its season, having pencilled in a 9 May date for matches behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, Lars-Christer Olsson, the chairman of the European Leagues body, has warned that the coronavirus could hit international soccer for up to three years, potentially affecting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The crisis has already forced Uefa to postpone the final stages of this season’s club competitions and delay the Euro 2020 European Championships until next year.
Asked in a Soccerex webinar how long he thought the calendar might be impacted for, Olsson, who sits on the Uefa executive committee, said: “Probably two or three years I think. If the virus is developing in an even more serious way as it’s been for the time being, there will definitely be a problem with the international calendar.
“When some of the competitions are moved from one year to another... and then the Qatar World Cup is coming in the middle of the European season and you have to squeeze in domestic and international competitions. But I think we have to wait and see how that is going to affect the business.”
Olsson said Uefa remained hopeful of completing the Champions League and Europa League in August, adding: “If that would be possible, then I think it would be fine because that would also mean that we can safeguard the integrity of the final phase of the current season of international football.
“But of course we have to take decisions about that at the end of May at least, because otherwise it will probably not be possible to squeeze it in and also to qualify the clubs for the new season.”