Ligue 1

Olympique Lyonnais and other Ligue 1 clubs are considering legal action after the French Football League (LFP) confirmed that the domestic 2019-20 league season will end, declaring Paris Saint-Germain as champion.

The decision by the LFP yesterday (Thursday) was set up after French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe this week announced that no professional sport will be played in the country until September at the earliest.

No matches have been played in the top-tier Ligue 1 and second-tier Ligue 2 since March 9 following the COVID-19 outbreak. The LFP announced the end of the season following a board of directors meeting, confirming the final league tables for Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 utilising a system determining the average points per game amassed from matches played to date.

For Ligue 1, this made PSG, 12 points clear of Olympique de Marseille at the time of suspension, champion with an average points tally of 2.52. Marseille (2.0) was declared runner-up, enough for UEFA Champions League qualification, while Stade Rennais (1.79) finish third and also qualifies for the Champions League. Fourth-placed Lille OSC (1.75) will play in the Europa League.

Toulouse (0.46) and Amiens (0.82), the bottom two clubs, have been relegated, with Lorient, as champions, and RC Lens promoted from Ligue 2. The usual promotion and relegation play-offs between the leagues have been scrapped.

Lyon, which was placed seventh in Ligue 1, has taken issue with the decision as it faces being out of European competition next season for the first time in over two decades. Lyon could yet qualify for Europe by defeating PSG in the Coupe de la Ligue final, but the future of this match, along with the Coupe de France final, has yet to be decided.

In a statement issued following the LFP’s announcement, Lyon said: “The government position did not seem to impose such a definitive ban on Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, as the Minister of Sports Roxana Maracineanu had previously indicated the possibility of playing in August if the evolution of the health situation allowed it.

“Olympique Lyonnais then proposed as early as Tuesday that the league study an alternative solution that would allow the championship to end and thus preserve the fairness inherent in any sporting competition and be in line with UEFA’s proposals based on sporting merit according to objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles.

“This solution, shared by other clubs, was based on the principle of play-offs and play-downs, a championship title acquired by PSG, with a calendar limited to three weeks consistent with health constraints, and an innovative formula that could normally have interested broadcasters, currently short of content, as well as sports betting and all the other economic players in the football sector. This solution made it possible to meet UEFA’s desire to see national competitions through to the end.

“In view of today’s decision by the French Ligue 1 Championship, Olympique Lyonnais reserves the right to appeal against that decision and claim damages, in particular in respect of loss of opportunity and in the light of the case-law of other professional sports which is currently under way, since the damage to the club amounts to several tens of millions of euros.”

Lyon’s stance has been echoed by the presidents of Toulouse and Amiens, who have both indicated their clubs will appeal against relegation from Ligue 1. However, the LFP is confident that its decision holds up legally as it prepares for the 2020-21 season. “There might be appeals but our decisions are solid,” said LFP director general Didier Quillot.

The LFP now hopes to start the 2020-21 campaign by August 22-23 at the latest, likely behind closed doors to begin with. “If playing without spectators is allowed, we will try to play the cup finals in early August,” Quillot added.

Top 14

France’s National Rugby League (LNR) also decided to end its 2019-20 season yesterday, but a decision is yet to be made on how to finalise the current table.

With nine rounds of games left to play in the current season, Bordeaux-Begles were eight points clear in the Top 14 standings, while Stade Francais found itself bottom of the table. The season was suspended in mid-March, with the LNR and presidents of clubs in the Top 14 and second-tier Pro D2 now electing to end the season.

“We propose to declare that this 2019-20 season is at an end and focus on organising the launch of the 2020-21 editions of the two championships from September 2020,” the LNR said in a statement.

The LNR elected to shelve plans to hold a final phase of matches at the end of August, adding it will make a decision on the final standings in the coming days.

NASCAR

NASCAR has become the latest major US sports organisation to detail restart plans, with the historic circuits of Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway set to host events behind closed doors from May 17.

NASCAR suspended its season on March 13, with only four of its 36 scheduled races completed, and is keen to complete its full schedule. The initial return announced yesterday will kick off a slate of races running through to May 27 that includes seven events in three series at the two race tracks.

The top-tier NASCAR Cup Series will return to Darlington Raceway on May 17. This will be followed by a unique schedule that includes midweek races in primetime TV slots and a NASCAR crown jewel – the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway – in its traditional Memorial Day Weekend home for the 60th consecutive season.

Following “thorough collaboration” with public health officials, medical experts and state and federal officials, NASCAR said it has implemented a comprehensive health and safety plan. Nearly every aspect of how its events are conducted will be significantly modified, including one-day shows; mandated use of personal protective equipment; health screenings for all individuals prior to entering the facility, while inside the facility and exiting the facility; social distancing protocols; and strict limits on the number of individuals who are granted access into each facility.

“NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice-president and chief racing development officer. “NASCAR will return in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials and all those in the local community.”

RFL & Rugby League World Cup

The Rugby Football League (RFL) has today secured an emergency loan from the UK government as an “exceptional” measure designed to prop up the organisation and the sport, as it prepares to host the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.

The government has announced an emergency loan of £16m (€18.3m/$20.1m) to be administered by the RFL, in partnership with Sport England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The domestic season was suspended on March 16 and in its announcement, the DCMS highlighted rugby league’s importance to the communities in which it is established, and the boost that will be provided to the sport and the North of England by staging three World Cups – men’s, women’s and wheelchair – in the autumn of 2021. The government’s manifesto included a commitment to delivering a successful tournament, with significant financial support already provided.

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “This is a massive shot in the arm to secure the survival of rugby league. We recognise that many RFL clubs operate on very tight financial margins. Without their ability to stage matches with spectators and despite the government’s extensive economic package, the professional game has come very close to collapsing.

“Sports across the board are facing unprecedented pressures, and we are supporting them through wider government measures. In this case we are intervening as an exception, not to save an individual business or organisation, but to protect an entire sport, the community it supports, the World Cup held here next year and its legacy for generations to come.”

The World Cup is set to run from October 23 to November 27 next year. The finals of the men’s and women’s tournaments will be held at Manchester’s Old Trafford football stadium, with other host venues including St James’ Park in Newcastle, Leeds’ Elland Road, Anfield in Liverpool and London’s Emirates Stadium.

The tournament will also stage games at University of Bolton Stadium, Ricoh Arena (Coventry), Keepmoat Stadium (Doncaster), KCOM Stadium (Hull), John Smith’s Stadium (Huddersfield), Bramall Lane (Sheffield), Totally Wicked Stadium (St Helens), Riverside Stadium (Middlesbrough), Halliwell Jones Stadium (Warrington), Leigh Sports Village and LNER Community Stadium (York).

Ralph Rimmer, chief executive of the RFL, said: “In these very tough times for the country and huge demands on government, this is confirmation of why rugby league is important – our USP – the sport’s significant social impact in Northern communities in particular.

“Rugby league is not a wealthy sport but is rich in the things that matter most – outstanding sporting and life chances in often disadvantaged communities. The effects of lockdown at the start of our season genuinely threatened the survival of our clubs at all levels and their ability to continue delivering those positive social and economic impacts.”

All Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs based in England are eligible to apply for funding.

Image: Groupama Stadium