Pro14

Cross-border rugby union league the Pro14 has set out August 22 as the targeted resumption date for its 2019-20 season, with derby games to be played in its five competing territories.

In March, the Pro14 extended the suspension of its 2019-20 season on an indefinite basis due to COVID-19 and cancelled this campaign’s final, which was due to take place at Cardiff City Stadium in Wales tomorrow (Saturday).

The 2019-20 season will now have an abbreviated finish with two rounds of derby games in each territory counting towards final positions. This will cut the regular season from 21 game rounds to 15.

Derby rounds in Italy, Scotland and South Africa will see the two teams from each territory play back-to-back fixtures. The derby fixtures for the teams in Ireland and Wales have yet to be confirmed and will be announced in line with kick-off times and broadcast selections.

The season will be concluded across four consecutive weekends with the Pro14 Final targeted for September 12. The two teams which finish top of their conferences will qualify for a semi-final stage in order to compete for places in the final. Pro14 said it will consider the latest information in the territories that knock-out games could take place before making a final decision on the venue(s).

David Jordan, tournament director of the Pro14, said: “Safety has been, and will continue to be, the highest priority as we look to activate our plans to restart the 2019-20 season. We are very fortunate to be in a position where everyone involved is confident that we can conclude the season on the field of play.

“The work and diligence of our leading medical personnel at our unions, our clubs, World Rugby and key stakeholders to get us to this point has been immense. Operating across five territories often brings different complexities to the Guinness Pro14 but our unions have worked hard to bring proposals to their governments so we may put plans into action.”

October 3 has been identified as the provisional date for Round 1 of the 2020-21 season.

Ligue 1

The French Football League (LFP) has today voted to maintain a 20-team format for the top-tier Ligue 1 during the 2020-21 season.

The decision has been reached following an “in-depth examination” of the challenges that would come with having 20, 21 or 22 teams in Ligue 1 next season and the impact this would have on the calendar.

Financial impacts, audiovisual rights and contractual agreements with broadcasters were also considered in reaching the decision, which is set to be put forward for ratification during the LFP’s general assembly meeting on June 23.

The decision comes after France’s highest administrative court last week suspended the relegation of Amiens and Toulouse following the decision by the LFP to terminate the 2019-20 campaign in March.

The termination of the league meant that Amiens and Toulouse, who occupied the bottom two positions at the time, were relegated to Ligue 2. The two clubs subsequently launched legal action in response to what they viewed as an unfair ruling, with a number of matches still needing to be played at the time of the suspension.

The ruling from the Conseil d’État had opened up the possibility of a 22-team season next year, with Amiens and Toulouse retaining their top-tier status and being joined by Lorient and RC Lens, who have been promoted from Ligue 2.

However, today’s decision by the LFP’s board of directors to keep Ligue 1 as a 20-team competition would seemingly uphold the relegations of Amiens and Toulouse.

Campeonato Carioca

Top-level professional football returned in South America yesterday (Thursday) as the Campeonato Carioca, the state championship of Rio de Janeiro, resumed with a match between Flamengo and Bangu at a near empty Maracana stadium.

Reigning Copa Libertadores champion Flamengo won the fourth round match 3-0, in front of fewer than 200 people due to COVID-19 restrictions. The majority of Brazil’s state championships were halted in March as the pandemic took hold, and the Carioca is the first to resume.

Only the United States has been worse affected by COVID-19, with a further 1,238 deaths yesterday taking Brazil’s count to 47,748. As such, the return of football has been far from universally popular with a handful of fans showing up to the Maracana, still the site of a COVID-19 field hospital, to protest against President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been one of the few world leaders to actively downplay the global pandemic.

Rio de Janeiro state has seen around 8,000 deaths, but authorities this week agreed to let football return after the number of available intensive-care unit beds showed a slight improvement. However, two other Rio clubs, Botafogo and Fluminense, have rejected the return of the Campeonato Carioca and are protesting against the move.

Following yesterday’s game, the Rio de Janeiro Football Federation (FERJ) said its Safe Game Protocol was “performed exceptionally”. Another five games are currently scheduled to take place between June 19 and June 22.

Brazil’s national league, Série A, was due to commence its 2020 season last month but the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) has yet to specify a new start date.

Image: Pro14