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COVID 19 – Football 0

COVID 19 – Football 0

FOOTBALL: Tomorrow (Mar 20) marks a week since the Premier League made the decision to suspend all fixtures until April 4 due to coronavirus precautions.

By Ben Tirebuck

Thursday 19 March 2020, 02:00PM

To play or not to play, that is the question facing the football world in the UK after coronavirus precautions suspended play. Photo: AFP

To play or not to play, that is the question facing the football world in the UK after coronavirus precautions suspended play. Photo: AFP

Many feel the actual likelihood of resuming the fixture list at that juncture is merely wishful thinking as the virus is not expected to peak in Britain for several weeks, meaning the hiatus would be extended or games potentially scrapped altogether. Confusion regarding the ramifications is huge.

Matches in the English Football League, FA Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship are also on hold, as are games in the Europa and Champions League. England’s friendly internationals against Italy and Denmark at the end of the month have been scrapped.

The decision was finally taken after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday (Mar 13). (See story here).

Shortly after, Everton announced their entire first-team squad and coaching staff have been told to self-isolate after a player reported symptoms consistent with the virus.

Leicester City had three players go into self-isolation, Bournemouth said goalkeeper Artur Boruc and four staff members did likewise; Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy went into self-isolation and Watford are awaiting results from a player tested for the virus.

To play or not to play

Arteta welcomed the idea to suspend the season, as did Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, magnanimous as ever given the fact Liverpool are on the verge of securing their first domestic title in 30 years.

“I’ve said before that football always seems the most important of the least important things,” said Klopp in an official club statement.

“If it’s a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it’s no contest. Really, it isn’t.”

Brighton and Hove Albion chief executive Paul Barber said if the season were to be “frozen” it would be unjust on Liverpool.

“Everybody in the game appreciates what a fantastic season they’ve had and what a wonderful team they are,” he told the BBC.

“But equally it would be unjust for teams to be relegated when there are still eight, nine, ten games to play,” he added.

West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady said if the Premier League fixtures could not be completed, the only fair solution would be to declare the season “null and void”.

"Who knows who would have gone down or come up if the games have not actually been played in full?” Brady commented.

West Ham sits two points above the relegation zone. Brighton is one place and two points above them in the table. Self-preservation, I hear you say?

Clubs in the Championship vying for promotion to the promised land of the Premier League would also be extremely hard done by in such a scenario.

Often dubbed the toughest league in the world to climb out of, teams such as Leeds, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Brentford and Nottingham Forest have fought long and hard all season for the opportunity to challenge in the top tier. To have that carrot dangled all season, only to be snatched away at the death would be cruel and unfair.

“The problem, I think, is when you stop something it’s how you restart it and who determines when you restart it, because you’ll be in the court of public opinion when you do restart something,” former Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan told TalkSport.

“How many fewer cases do there need to be before we go back?


“There is no way the integrity of this season can be lost by scrapping it as it is now, and writing off everything that’s been done,” he added.

Financial hit

Rumours abound the final nine games will be played at a later date although when exactly is unsure. They may be played behind closed doors. Or not at all. Nobody is certain.

The financial implications are equally as complex and clubs at all levels face enormous losses.

If the season is not completed then the league is in breach of contract to broadcasters and that’s where it could get really messy.

The Premier League generates £3 billion (118.5 billion baht) a year from overseas and domestic TV rights. But if there is no content for broadcasters to show, then what happens?

“You would have broadcasters from all around the world saying, ‘In that case we are not paying for the season’”, a senior figure in broadcasting told The Times.

Then there are the fans who have paid for their season-long TV subscriptions but are being short-changed. Likewise businesses in the entertainment and hospitality industries such as pubs and clubs that pay substantial fees each season for the right to broadcast games. Will they be reimbursed?

Fans who have paid for season tickets will face the same problem as they will only be receiving a portion of what they were promised. The cost of a season ticket in the Premier League ranges from £320 (B12,000) to £1995 (B75,000).

Many clubs have committed this TV revenue and could be in breach of Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules if their budgets are compromised. Add on lost gate receipts, should matches be played behind closed doors, and it is a nightmare scenario.

The fall-out further down the football pyramid could be even more painfully felt.

“Many clubs are surviving on a match-to-match basis and are reliant on the loyal few thousand turning up,” football finance expert Kieran Maguire told the BBC.

“We have to consider the staff at clubs, they are reliant on the income they get from football clubs to pay their own bills as well,” he added.

Klopp is right, of course. Whereas the implications of this virus-induced suspension could be devastating for the beautiful game, the health of society is paramount.

It seems any possible resolution is as complex and divisive as the game itself in that everyone has an opinion but nothing is certain.

We wait and see...


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