BRUSSELS — The Belgian soccer league will start next season in empty stadiums because of the coronavirus pandemic and it urged fans on Tuesday to avoid large gatherings when supporting their team.
The league’s decision came amid a surge of new COVID-19 infections in the country of 11.5 million inhabitants that has led the government to reintroduce drastic social-distancing measures. The restrictions announced Monday include lowering crowd limits at outdoor public events to 200 people.
The league said it wants “to guarantee the health of everyone in and around the world of soccer” with its decision.
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Coronavirus infections nosedived in Belgium in May and June but the country has witnessed a surge in confirmed cases over the past three weeks. According to figures released Tuesday, the number rose 69% from July 18-24 compared to the previous seven days, with an average of 311 people testing positive every day.
The league called on fans to follow their teams from their own homes or within their so-called “social bubble,” which is now limited to the same five people for at least the next four weeks under the government’s latest guidelines.
“Only by following the measures as strictly as possible can we ensure the start of the soccer season,” the league said.
The season was stopped in May with Club Brugge awarded its 16th Belgian title after the government decided that all sporting competitions would remain suspended until July 31. Club Brugge will aim for a domestic double when it takes on Antwerp in Saturday’s Belgian Cup final, the first competitive game in the country since the virus brought soccer to a halt.
The 2020-21 season will open the next weekend.
Club Brugge have been named the champions of Belgium as clubs voted to end the 2019-20 season with European spots and one relegation for Waasland-Beveren also confirmed.
The decision has long been coming after clubs and the league agreed in April to end the current campaign without further games due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, after a lengthy delay an official vote only took place on May 15 and clubs decided to name Club Brugge champions and settle the rest of the table by leaving it as it was. Club Brugge will now be in the UEFA Champions League group stage next season, while Gent will be in the UCL third qualifying round and Charleroi will be in the Europa League group stage.
Antwerp will join the Europa League in the third qualifying round and Standard Liege in the second. Genk and Anderlecht finished in seventh and eighth respectively and miss out on European qualification. Club Brugge were 15 points clear at the top with one game of the regular season to go, as the Belgian league then splits into a top and bottom half playoff format for the remainder of the season.
The decision to award a champion and end the season with the table as it is is different from other leagues around Europe, as in France’s Ligue 1 they decided to use a points-per-game to end the 2019-20 season due to the French government postponing professional sports until September. The Dutch government also stopped pro sports, even in empty stadiums, until Sept. 1 but the Dutch Eredivisie decided to cancel the season as no champions were declared and no promotion and relegation was permitted.
As for Italy, Spain and England, all three aim to restart their top-flight leagues in June, while the Bundesliga in Germany is of course returning to action this weekend.
All of these countries in Europe are so close to one another geographically but given the different situations in each nation due to the coronavirus pandemic, leagues are coming to very different decisions.
American midfielder Chris Durkin is staying in Belgian after Sint-Truiden agreed a fee with DC United, his new club announced Thursday.
Durkin turned 20 in February and appeared 14 times during his loan stint with the Belgians, where he scored a goal.
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The defensive midfielder was 16 when he signed for DC and made his first team debut for the Black-and-Red in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
He played 41 times for DC United and 15 times with the USL’s Richmond Kickers before moving abroad in August.
The youngster has played 60 times for U.S. youth national teams in his career, according to Transfermarkt.
Washington Post writer Steven Goff reported that the fee was $1.1 million, with a 25 percent sell-on. Durkin’s contract is for three years.
There will be a lot to watch here, as Durkin was in the U-23 picture for Olympic qualifying ahead of a tournament which now looks set for 2021 after the coronavirus pandemic.
Sacha Kljestan famously starred with Anderlecht in the Belgian Pro League during his playing days, while American players Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge) and Brendan Hines-Ike (Kortrijk) are currently in the league.
The Pro League in Belgium is set to be the first top-flight in Europe to rule its season abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It is expected the decision will be announced formally on April 15 and that Club Brugge, who sit 15 points clear atop the table, will be awarded the title as there is just one regular-season game remaining before the playoffs to decide the top half of the table were due to begin.
Club Brugge would also be handed a spot in the UEFA Champions League for next season.
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The recommendation from the board of directors to its club is that the season should be abandoned and current league positions will be declared as final. A meeting on Apr. 15 will see the plan discussed and the only remaining issues to discuss are promotion and relegation.
“The Board of Directors took note of the recommendations of Dr. Van Ranst and the government that it is highly unlikely that games with the public will be played before June 30. The current situation also makes it very unclear whether and when a resumption of collective training courses can be foreseen at all. The Board of Directors have unanimously decided that it is not desirable to continue the competition after June 30. Given the above elements, the Board of Directors has formulated a unanimous advice to the General Meeting not to resume the competitions of the season ’19 -’20 and to accept the current state of the Jupiler Pro League as final classification (subject to the decisions of the licensing committee).”
They added that the Belgium league have set up a working group which will “consider the sporting and financial implications that this decision entails.”
The fact that any games which did take place behind closed doors before June 30 would require extra assistance from medical and security personnel who are already stretched to their limits during the coronavirus pandemic is a huge factor in why sporting events are not taking place.
This ruling could well be the landmark moment for leagues across Europe, and the rest of the world, calling it quits for the 2019-20 campaign.
Many leagues, such as the Premier League, continue to suspend its season indefinitely as they wait for improvements with the coronavirus pandemic and 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 at the earliest to be completed.
Vincent Kompany‘s going home in a big way.
The longtime Manchester City center back will return to Anderlecht this summer as player-manager, rejoining the club that raised him from an academy starlet to two-time Belgian top-flight champion.
“It’s the most passionate yet rational decision I’ve ever made,” Kompany wrote on Facebook. “As a footballer, I was born and raised at RSC Anderlecht. Since the age of 6, I have been one with that club. A history of 34 league titles, they are second to none.”
Kompany, 33, made his bones at Anderlecht with 103 appearances before spending two seasons at Hamburger SV.
That was enough to attract Man City’s attention in 2008, and the big center back rewarded the club with 13 pieces of silverware: Four Premier League crowns, three FA Cups, four League Cups, and a pair of Community Shields.
At Anderlecht, he succeeds Fred Rutten with the club 12 points back of a title. The 34-time Belgian champions haven’t won the league in two seasons.
Kompany isn’t just a footballing genius, he’s one of the most intelligent people in the game and earned his MBA while with City. It will be fascinating to follow his progress as a manager, and obviously it’s a big win for Anderlecht if he can stay fit on the field. The 87-times capped Belgian still performs for his national team, and it’s fair to say he’ll continue to be an icon at home.