European soccer returns to action after coronavirus
BERN (Reuters) – Professional soccer leagues around Europe are gearing up for a return to action following the novel coronavirus stoppage, but some are more advanced than others. Here is a roundup of the state of play:
The Bundesliga season will restart on May 16, the German Football League (DFL) has said, making it the first European league to resume amid the coronavirus epidemic.
The DFL said the season would resume under strict health protocols, with no fans allowed in stadiums and several matches, including the Ruhr valley derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04, taking place on the relaunch day.
The 20 Premier League clubs have discussed plans for a resumption of training in May followed by a possible return to action in June.
However, the league cannot take any steps until a government decision on possible changes to lockdown restrictions.
Clubs were informed that an eventual resumption of matches would see them played only at neutral venues which have been approved from a health and safety point of view.
La Liga said on May 4 that first and second division teams could start training following a protocol it had agreed with Spain’s sports and health authorities. It hopes to resume in June.
There is still doubt over whether Serie A can restart, with government ministers, the Italian federation, the Serie A league and clubs all giving conflicting information.
Teams are training again from the week starting May 4 but the main sticking point is the Italian federation’s medical protocol — described as “insufficient” by sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora.
The season was called off by the government and Paris St Germain crowned champions. Olympique Lyonnais said they would claim damages after they were denied a European spot. Relegated Amiens and Toulouse also threatened to initiate legal action.
Albania’s federation is awaiting a response from the government on a proposal to resume league matches without fans present and under strict medical protocols from May 20.
All league matches were postponed on March 8. The intention is for the season to be completed as planned.
Armenian Premier League clubs resumed training on April 23. The country’s soccer federation said matches could resume in the second half of May or early June.
One of the first countries to allow training, the league now says the government’s health guidelines — under which a whole team must be quarantined if a single player tests positive — make a restart unlikely.
The Azerbaijan Premier League had planned for a resumption of the competition a few weeks after the current lockdown ended. The government, however, extended the lockdown until May 31, making any return to action impossible before June.
The Belarus Premier League is the only European competition not to be suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Belgians were the first country to cancel the rest of their season, but formal confirmation of the decision has now been postponed four times.
However, any lingering hopes that the league might go back on a decision to cancel their season, and restart the campaign, ended on May 6 when the government extended a ban on sports events until July 31.
The Bosnian Football Association is to convene on May 7 and decide when and whether the country’s 12-team first division, which was suspended in early March, will resume.
Bulgaria’s top division will resume on June 5 without spectators in a shortened format and end on July 11, the country’s football union said.
The Bulgarian Cup final will take place on July 4 and the following campaign will start on July 25, three days after the domestic Super Cup.
Croatia’s domestic season will resume with cup ties on May 30 followed by league action on June 6 pending government approval, its football association (HNS) said.
The Czech Republic’s league is due to start on May 25.
A spokesman for the Cyprus Football Association told Reuters its board would meet in the coming days to discuss the resumption of fixtures. Teams can begin training from May 18 but only in open grounds and must follow physical distancing rules.
The country’s FA is waiting on the Danish authorities to give them permission to resume competition.
Top-flight action in Estonia has been paused since March 13. The Estonian Football Association said players could start training from May 2 following a protocol it had agreed with the government.
Having avoided the worst of the pandemic, the modest Faroe Islands league looks set to become the first to resume with the date set for May 9.
Teams have been given permission to train again, although the Finnish FA has been criticised for some of its safety guidelines which have been described as “hazy” by one club director.
No restart date yet and the competition format is being reviewed by the football federation’s working group.
Gibraltar’s Football Association has called off the season and the top three in the standings at the time of the suspension — Europa FC, St Joseph’s FC and Lincoln Red Imps FC — will qualify for Europe.
They are due to meet next week to decide the final league standings.
Players from some of the 14 Greek Super League clubs started outdoor training in small groups on May 5 while following strict social distancing rules. Teams are hopeful the season can resume on June 14 pending permission from the government.
The football association said that the season would restart on May 23 with two cup ties and a league game.
The top-flight season was scheduled to kick off on April 22 and conclude on Sept. 26. This, however, has been delayed. The league is now preparing to begin the new campaign on June 14 if possible.
The Football Association of Ireland is currently awaiting a green light from the country’s Health Service Executive and the league hopes to start in June.
Clubs were allowed to resume outdoor training from May 4 and the league management has said matches could resume in June if the situation is favourable. There will be fewer matches so that the season can end on schedule.
The 12-team top division was suspended in mid-March and no date has been set as to when it might resume.
All football competitions in the country were suspended after Latvia declared a state of emergency on March 13. The government authorities said as long as emergency regulations are in place, competitions will not be allowed to resume.
Teams in the Lithuanian top flight have been allowed to train since April 30 and the government said it is looking into allowing matches to go ahead. Precautions to be taken during matches have not been announced yet.
Season abandoned. No champions or relegated teams. The top four teams at the time of the suspension qualify for Champions League/Europe League. Next season will be transitional with 16 teams in the top flight instead of 14.
Malta’s FA suspended their domestic football competitions on March 12. President Bjorn Vassall is set to hold talks with top division clubs later this week, with Birkirkara, Gzira United and Valletta proposing a restart date of July 1.
The Moldovan Football Federation has been consulting clubs from the National Division on the best ways to resume training and games. The federation has not provided an approximate date for the league to resume.
Return to team training has been scheduled for May 18 while league games are to resume on June 1 without fans, depending on how effectively the pandemic is curbed.
The Dutch FA called time on their season on April 24 after the government banned public events until September. No champion was declared, but it was decided the top five teams at the time of the suspension of the league would compete in next year’s European club competitions.
The country’s soccer governing body is yet to set a date for a possible return to action as it requires the health ministry’s approval.
Soccer in Northern Ireland has been suspended until at least May 31 with no indication when or if the season will resume.
The government is due to announce on May 7 whether football can resume and if so under what circumstances.
The league has announced that it will restart on May 29.
The Primeira Liga is one of a handful to set a date so far and plans to restart on May 30. Teams began training on Monday.
Romania will begin to relax its nationwide lockdown from May 15 and the country’s domestic soccer federation (FRF) is hoping the league can re-start in June.
FCSB, formerly Steaua Bucharest, resumed team training in violation of the ban on outdoor gatherings and Sports Minister Ionut Stroe said they could be fined.
The Russian Premier League has put forward a plan to resume the season on June 21 or 28 and proposed two solutions to clubs for the campaign to re-start, with eight rounds remaining.
The league has been discussing with health authorities the best way to resume group training sessions.
Training centres and sports clubs can only open from May 31 which means there is little chance of the championship restarting.
Scotland’s 42 professional clubs voted digitally last month on a proposal to end the season across the lower tiers and in the top-tier Premiership if it becomes clear that the campaign cannot be completed.
The second, third and fourth tier leagues have ended their seasons after the resolution was passed with a majority vote.
Serbia’s first and second division will resume on May 30 behind closed doors in a changed format.
The decision means the top two tiers comprising 16 clubs each will play another four rounds of matches to complete the regular season, while championship and relegation playoffs requiring an additional seven rounds were scrapped.
The Slovak League is hoping to complete the season. Teams are training but the league says it won’t re-start before June 6 at the earliest. The league is also drawing up plans for a shortened end to the season and plans in case in can’t finish at all.
With no return date in sight yet, the Slovenian Football Association issued a public statement on May 6 saying that clubs will find it increasingly difficult to stay afloat if competition does not resume in the near future.
Sweden has avoided a full lockdown and many teams are already back in training. Play could restart on June 14.
The government has given permission for training from May 11 and matches to re-start on June 8. However, the football league said there were still numerous financial and health issues to be resolved.
Turkey’s domestic league will resume from June 12 and aims to complete the season on July 26, the country’s football federation chairman Nihat Ozdemir has said. Turkey also plans to host the Champions League final in August.
The last meeting of the Ukraine Football Federation was on April 29. There is no decision or plan so far. The Ukraine Premier League wants to complete the league and cup season but says it cannot make any plans until the government announces its measures for easing the lockdown.
The Wales FA extended the suspension of all domestic soccer in the country until at least May 15 but has said it is keen on finishing the top-tier campaign.