The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) has effectively cancelled the domestic season after the government extended a ban on the staging of major public events by a further three months.
The announcement by Prime Minister Mark Rutte yesterday (Tuesday) evening includes professional sports events and music festivals through to September 1, as the country attempts to deal with COVID-19.
Rutte said that limiting the easing of current restrictions was a necessary measure to avoid a new wave of cases. Dutch health authorities yesterday said that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had risen by 729 in the past 24 hours to stand at 34,134. The Netherlands has a death count from the pandemic of 3,916.
In response to the government’s announcement, the KNVB said it would not seek to continue efforts to resume the 2019-20 football season, but will first attempt to consult with UEFA, which has been pushing its member unions to attempt to finish their seasons.
The KNVB said the government’s decision creates “clarity” adding that a meeting will be held on Friday to discuss the consequences of the cancellation. It added in a statement: “That the KNVB has not yet definitively cancelled the interrupted competitions, is mainly because the professional football industry has come into financial difficulties due to the corona crisis.
“Attempts are being made to prevent clubs from collapsing. As in other parts of our economy, efforts are being made to protect an industry as much as possible against the financial consequences of the current crisis.
“The fact that football cannot be played until September 1 brings enormous challenges in organisational, sporting and economic terms. We frequently discuss this with the government, clubs, interest groups and experts. Together we will look at the possible next steps for football in the 1.5 metre society. Together we discuss how we can organise football in the future and how to make it corona proof.”
The top-tier Eredivisie was suspended with Ajax leading the table on goal difference from AZ Alkmaar. Ajax said in a statement: “The decision that no public events may be organised for the time being is not unexpected.
“Ajax and the other clubs were therefore already in consultation to come to a joint, uniform approach for all supporters of all Eredivisie clubs. It is expected that soon there will be more clarity on how to deal with the already purchased (season) tickets for the Eredivisie matches of this current season.”
Svensk Elitfotboll (SEF), operating body of the top two divisions of Swedish football, has said it plans to start its domestic season on June 14, with crowds in the stadia.
The Swedish football season was due to start at the beginning of the month, but was postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. Following a meeting with clubs yesterday (Tuesday), the SEF outlined June 14 as a targeted start date for the season.
A statement read: “Work is now in progress on finalising the annual plan for Allsvenskan and Superettan, where the first step is to wait for UEFA’s international calendar to see what dates are playable.
“The ambition is still to play all matches with the public, but Svensk Elitfotboll is constantly following developments in Corona/COVID-19 in society and any new directives from the authorities and/or the government.”
Sweden has taken a markedly different approach to COVID-19, with schools, restaurants and shops remaining open. As of yesterday, 1,765 people had died from the virus in the country. SEF secretary general Mats Enquist believes June 14 is a realistic start date, but stressed the organisation would bow to guidance from authorities.
“It’s been almost two months,” Enquist said, according to Swedish newspaper Expressen. “We are not experts on viruses, but just look at how quickly things can change. Just a week ago it was talked about that you could not play training matches and now it is talked about that you can play with fans (in the stadia). It is up to the experts to judge, we cannot speculate as much.”
The Korea Baseball Organization has said the KBO League will commence its 2020 season on May 5, initially in empty ballparks, with the preseason campaign making an immediate start.
The 2020 regular season was due to start on March 28, but was postponed due to COVID-19. Yesterday’s announcement from the KBO saw four exhibition games take place later that day, starting with the LG Twins defeating the defending Korean Series champion Doosan Bears 5-2 in an empty stadium in Seoul.
The preseason fixtures will conclude on Monday, with the regular season then due to commence, initially behind closed doors. South Korea’s Prime Minister, Chung Sye-kyun, on Sunday announced eased guidelines for social distancing, stating that outdoor sports games could go ahead with proper safety measures in place, including not allowing fans to attend.
Staying with baseball, CBS Sports has reported that Major League Baseball (MLB) is considering a proposal to stage its 2020 season in Arizona, Florida and Texas.
Citing multiple league sources, CBS Sports said the three-state plan would see clubs use the local major- and minor-league, or spring training, facilities and play regular season games behind closed doors.
Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays), Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Globe Life Field (Texas Rangers) are being seen as potential venues, along with Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros) and Marlins Park (Miami Marlins).
MLB is said to be weighing up multiple options. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey last week said his state is willing to host all 30 MLB teams, when conditions allow for the start of the season. The MLB season had been due to start on March 26 but this has been pushed back until mid-May at the earliest due to COVID-19.
Clubs in rugby union’s English Premiership are looking at a best-case scenario of resuming its season on the weekend of July 3-5, according to BBC Sport.
The league still needs to complete nine more rounds and hold its end-of-season play-offs. Plans are said to involve a month of training before the first match leading to a final, ideally at Twickenham, on August 15.
Clubs are said to have discussed different possibilities on where to host matches in a condensed schedule. Twickenham could be utilised as a neutral venue and host multiple games, but London has been hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK and the home of English rugby is currently being utilised as a drive-through coronavirus testing centre.
Image: AFC Ajax