PARIS, FRANCE – MARCH 11: Thousands of ultras and fans of the Paris Saint Germain, wearing … [+]
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The French government published a plan to exit the strict lockdown that has been in force since mid-March—but canceled all major sporting events until September 1. Prime Minister Edouard Phillippe said that some measures would be relaxed as of May 11, including kids going back to school and shops reopening, with restaurants slated to open in early June.
Further down the announcement, however, was the news that sports would be banned until September 1: essentially drawing a line under the 2019/20 season for Ligue 1 and rugby union’s Top 14, while making it very difficult for the Tour de France to take place. Rugby league’s Catalans Dragons and Toulouse Olympique, who compete in competitions in the UK, are left in limbo and may need to relocate to Britain to continue play.
‘The 2019-2020 season of professional sports, including football, will not be able to resume,’ said Phillippe. ‘It will be possible, on sunny days, to practice an individual sporting activity outdoors, obviously respecting the rules of social distancing. It will not be possible to practice sport in covered places, nor team or contact sports.
In light of the new announcements, sporting bodies will now reconvene to discuss how to move forwards. The Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), who run professional football in France, will meet to decide how to end the season, with Paris Saint Germain likely to be named champions as they lead the table by 11 points. Further down the scale, relegation is far from settled, with Amiens and Toulouse currently in the drop zone and Nimes just above. Ligue 2 is too close to call, and the LFP may just choose not to promote or relegate anyone to avoid the issue entirely.
PSG are still in European competition, and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, their club president, released a statement that committed the club to finishing their Champions’ League campaign. ‘We respect, of course, the French government decision,’ he said. ‘In agreement with UEFA we intend to participate in the final rounds of this season’s Champions League at the time and place at which it will be organised. If it is not possible to play in France, we will play our matches abroad with the assurance that we will place our players and all our staff in the best possible health conditions.’
PERPIGNAN, FRANCE – FEBRUARY 15: Israel Folau of Catalans Dragons is challenged by Michael Shenton … [+]
The Tour de France, the largest sporting event in the country, had already been postponed to August 29 and may yet take place. “Just because major sporting events can’t go through until the end of August doesn’t mean the Tour will be postponed or canceled,” said the Ministry of Sport in a statement. “But it can have consequences for the number of spectators.”
As the ‘major sporting events’ criteria set out by the French government is taken to mean events with 5,000 spectators, it is hard to say whether cycling events, in which spectators are spread out over hundreds of kilometers along the route, fall under this or not. The UCI, cycling’s governing body, had been expecting to resume competition in early July and will now have to revise their already-heavily-revised calendar. It seems impossible for the Criterium du Dauphine, the traditional precursor to the Tour, to take place.
Rugby Union has a clearer path, and the season will follow that of Ligue 1 and be canceled so that plans can begin for next season. Bordeaux are clear at the top of the league and will likely be named champions, though again, relegation is an issue. Stade Francais are currently bottom of the ladder.
Rugby league competition in the UK is due to resume in July and the two French sides, Catalans Dragons and Toulouse Olympique, are lined up to participate. Now, that is up in the air. One option is for both clubs to relocate to England, though this would require players to be apart from their family and, potentially, for clubs to quarantine for a period on arrival in the UK. This is not without precedent: Toronto Wolfpack already have a semi-permanent base in England for their blocks of away fixtures, while in Australia, the New Zealand Warriors team have committed to play on from a base in Australia.
Catalans coach Steve McNamara said that the team would do what was asked of them to play. “We certainly wouldn’t have any intention of doing that (opting out of the season); we’ve a team that’s ready to play and we need to find a way of doing that,’ he told The Guardian. ‘I’m speaking only a couple of hours after the ban and there’s lots of work to find out what we do. September seems a long time away but July sounds a lot less scary. From September, hopefully we would be back on track at home. May 11 was the date pencilled in for us to return to training but what that looks like now, we’re not sure.’