Aleksander Ceferin

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UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion

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Following the announcement that the Belgian top flight had cancelled the remainder of its league season, UEFA has put all member nations on notice with multiple public announcements that warned there would be consequences if a federation did not exhaust all options before calling time on its domestic competition.

The continental governing body issued a letter that threatened any league making such decisions at this time could be kicked out of European competition. “Any decision of abandoning domestic competitions is, at this stage, premature and not justified,” the letter wrote. “Since participation in UEFA club competitions is determined by the sporting result achieved at the end of a full domestic competition, a premature termination would cast doubts about the fulfillment of such condition.”

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin also went on German broadcast channel ZDF and made similarly strong statements, urging that all member nations must remain united in their response to this catastrophe.

“Solidarity is not a one-way street,” he told German public broadcaster ZDF. “The Belgians and any others who might be thinking about it now are risking their participation in European competitions next season.”

The Belgian league was suspended with just one matchday remaining in its regular season, although the league does utilize playoffs to determine a champion. With the cancellation of the remainder of its league season, Club Brugge has been named the champion, with the team 15 points ahead at the top of the table. “The board of directors unanimously decided that it was not desirable, whatever the scenario envisaged, to continue the competition after 30 June,” the league said in a statement.

Teams are facing a potential web of legal entanglement should the season extend beyond June 30, which is looking more and more likely with each passing week. All player contracts across Europe are drafted with that deadline and playing beyond that date will take an exceptional amount of concession by all parties involved.

Club Brugge played this season in the Champions League, finishing bottom of a difficult Group A that included Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, and Galatasaray. Gent, who sits in second, is also looking at a possible spot in the Champions League next season, entering in the third qualifying round. They played in this season’s competition as well, earning just a single point from Group E play against Liverpool, Napoli, and RB Salzburg.

The league’s one Europa League spot is determined in a more complicated format that features two different playoff rounds, with the winners playing in a one-off match to determine a winner, would likely go to third-place finisher Charleroi. Usual Belgian power Standard Liege finishes the season in a disappointing fifth, 21 points back of the top spot.

European bodies implore member associations to wait to abandon seasons

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UEFA is speaking up regarding its hope to finish club seasons once the environment is safer.

Sky Sports reports that UEFA has sent a letter to its 55 members associations imploring them not to cancel their competitions early and that they exhaust all options “until the last possibility exists.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The letter is signed by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli and European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson.

The report comes as the Belgian Super League reportedly prepares to award its league title to Club Brugge on April 15. The league would be the first to see its season abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

From Sky Sports:

“We are confident that football can restart in the months to come – with conditions that will be dictated by public authorities – and believe that any decision of abandoning domestic competitions is, at this stage, premature and not justified.”

Many leagues, such as the Premier League, continue to suspend their seasons indefinitely as they wait for improvements with the coronavirus pandemic.

Although UEFA have relaxed their previous stance that domestic seasons should be finished by June 30, it is looking more likely that the 2019-20 season would need until August or September.

‘Season will be lost’ if it doesn’t resume by July

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The president of UEFA has warned the current season will be ‘lost’ if it doesn’t resume by July as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across Europe and the world.

Aleksander Ceferin has been talking about the scenarios for when the domestic and European competitions can resume and it is clear there is a small window of opportunity for each league in Europe to complete their 2019-20 campaigns.

Speaking to Italian outlet La Repubblica, Ceferin confirmed that he has a few plans in mind but with many leagues seasons expected to resume later in the summer, if at all, time is running out before the attention must switch to 2020-21.

“Nobody knows when the pandemic will end. We have a plan A, B or C: to restart in mid-May, in June or at the end of June. If then we wouldn’t be able to do any of these, the season would probably be lost,” Ceferin said. “There is also the possibility of ending this season at the start of the next, which would then be postponed, starting a little later. We’re in touch with the leagues, the clubs, there is a working group and we’ll see what solution is best for all. We have to wait, like any other sector.”

Right now, the situation which would see the end of this season resuming at the start of next season seems the most likely.

A report has already stated that the 2019-20 Premier League season could resume at the start of July and the final nine games of the season would be played out across 4-6 weeks and act as a preseason for the 2020-21 campaign.

The main issue to sort out is player contracts as many are contracted until July 1 before becoming free agents. What happens to those players? Will players sign short-term contracts? What about loan deals? FIFA and UEFA will no doubt have to sort out all of those finer details but that is all secondary.

Right now the main thing on the mind of leagues across the world is when, if ever, they can finish the 2019-20 seasons. It is looking increasingly likely that there will be just a short period of time to get the season finished but if just one player or coach tests positive for coronavirus during that period, the whole league would have to shut down again.

UEFA president deems coronavirus ‘biggest crisis’ in soccer history

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has fears for the future of world soccer as we know it, but he’s pretty hopeful.

Speaking in a lengthy Q&A with the Associated Press, Ceferin says this is an unprecedented challenge for the sport.

“I would say it is the biggest crisis that football faced in history. But it’s also a possibility to, as you said, to reset some things, put some things differently. And honestly speaking, I’m optimistic about the future. We will have to be a bit careful at the beginning, but we are capable of coming back.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Obviously soccer dealt with the a pair of world wars and countless regional traumas but the modern, rich era has not seen much like the halting of the sport by coronavirus.

Ceferin was speaking following the postponement of EURO 2020, which is now EURO 2021.

The UEFA president said he was heartened by the showing of a similar mindset between the world’s confederations and national leagues.

“The ecosystem is fragile. We have to be very careful because we depend on each other and it also shows how important football is for people, for fans, because we always say football is about players and football is about fans. It’s not about us football administrators and we shouldn’t think we are the stars of the game.”

More coronavirus connections to soccer:

UEFA wants to “wage war on racists”

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has reacted strongly to the racist abuse of England’s players in Bulgaria on Monday.

[ MORE: England’s players react ]

During the EURO 2020 qualifier monkey chants were heard from sections of the home crowds at Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium, while Nazi salutes were also made and the officials stopped the game twice in the first half and then followed step one of UEFA’s anti-racism protocol as a message was broadcast over the speakers that the game was in danger of being abandoned.

A section of home supporters were seen leaving their seats just before half time, covering their faces with hoods and some had shirts which said “UEFA No Respect” written on them.

UEFA will investigate the incidents in Sofia after England made a formal complaint, and this comes after section of the stadium in Sofia was shut on Monday due to the racist abuse of players from both Kosovo and the Czech Republic during previous EURO 2020 qualifiers.

Ceferin called on governments and other organizations to work with them to “wage war” on racists as incidents continue to crop up across Europe.

“There were times, not long ago, when the football family thought that the scourge of racism was a distant memory. The last couple of years have taught us that such thinking was, at best, complacent. The rise of nationalism across the continent has fuelled some unacceptable behaviour and some have taken it upon themselves to think that a football crowd is the right place to give voice to their appalling views.

“As a governing body, I know we are not going to win any popularity contests. But some of the views expressed about UEFA’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark. UEFA, in close cooperation with the FARE network (Football Against Racism Europe), instituted the three-stage protocol for identifying and tackling racist behaviour during games.

“UEFA’s sanctions are among the toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at our matches. The minimum sanction is a partial closure of the stadium – a move which costs the hosts at least hundreds of thousands in lost revenue and attaches a stigma to their supporters.

“UEFA is the only football body to ban a player for ten matches for racist behaviour – the most severe punishment level in the game. Believe me, UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football. We cannot afford to be content with this; we must always strive to strengthen our resolve.

“More broadly, the football family – everyone from administrators to players, coaches and fans – needs to work with governments and NGOs to wage war on the racists and to marginalise their abhorrent views to the fringes of society. Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honour will we make progress.”