Professional rugby and other sports in France cannot resume until the end of the summer because of COVID-19 restrictions, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday.
The announcement was made as the government unveiled its plans to gradually end the lockdown in France from May 11.
The move makes the completion of the 2019-2020 Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 soccer seasons and Top 14 rugby union campaign appear increasingly unlikely.
However, the French Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports said after the prime minister’s speech that sports fixtures could not take place even behind closed doors before the end of July, leaving open the possibility that some matches could still be played in August.
“The 2019-2020 professional sports leagues, notably soccer, cannot yet restart,” Philippe told the French National Assembly. “I would like to be precise here, no large sports gathering or any gathering of 5,000 people or more, needing the permission of the local police and long prior arrangements, will be allowed before September.”
Ligue 1 had outlined its intention to resume matches in June, with players being recalled to training as of May 11.
The French Football Federation is to hold a videoconference on Thursday to decide what to do next.
Federation president Noel Le Graet said that he thinks the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons are “over.”
“We informed the executive board, what it already knew, that Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 will not start, that the National [third tier] will not start, nor the women’s Division 1,” Le Graet told Le Telegramme newspaper. “These four competitions are definitively over for the 2019-2020 season.”
If the season is abandoned, it begs the question of which teams would qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League and Europa League, and whether teams would be relegated.
Olympique Lyonnais president Jean-Michel Aulas, whose side sit outside the Champions League places, said that he was “not sure” that the season would be ended.
“Does this mean that the UEFA championship is over? I’m not sure,” he said. “Since the championship is not finished, I think that it’s necessary do everything to find an alternative solution, by playing a certain number of playoffs during the month of August, or postponing next season until Sept. 15.”
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) president Nasser al-Khelaifi said that the Ligue 1 leaders would be prepared to play their remaining games of this season’s Champions League abroad.
The French champions reached the quarter-finals with a last-16 victory over Borussia Dortmund behind closed doors shortly before the lockdown.
“We plan on competing in the Champions League, wherever and whenever it is held,” al-Khelaifi said in a statement. “If it is not possible to play in France, we will play our matches abroad, ensuring the most stringent medical safety conditions for our players and all of our staff.”
Last week, Le Graet said that he hoped that both the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue finals could be played before the league season restarts.
PSG are scheduled to face Lyon in the Coupe de la Ligue final and are then due to play AS Saint-Etienne in the Coupe de France final.
French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte said that the announcement gave the clubs clarity.
“I thought soccer would be allowed to restart behind closed doors, but I’m not surprised,” Laporte said. “It’s a real headache [because] testing and social distancing are even tougher in rugby. It’s clear now anyway — nothing until September.”
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