A blanket ban on sporting events in France until September has prematurely ended the Ligue 1 season and placed the immediate future of the Tour de France and Top 14 in doubt as sport continues to contend with coronavirus.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe addressed the nation on Tuesday to announce an exit strategy from lockdown but while some sectors are due to begin emerging next month, elite sport has been pushed further back.
Football’s Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 have followed the lead of the Dutch Eredivisie by effectively ending the 2019-20 campaign, while it appears inevitable that the country’s domestic rugby tournament will be forced into a similar conclusion.
The announced dates also cause a significant problem for the prestigious Tour, which has already been delayed due to the pandemic and given a new start date of August 29 in Nice.
Phillipe did not specifically mention cycling, but expressly covered events that brought together groups of more than 5,000 people. The Amaury Sports Organisation, which oversees the race, has previously ruled out staging a behind-closed-doors edition.
Paris St Germain have accepted the decision in relation to the league campaign, and could yet be awarded the title given they are 12 points clear with a game in hand, but are currently focused on the Champions League.
Having already booked a quarter-final place, club president Nasser Al-Khelaif has gone on record with an intention to take part in any resumption of the European competition, with the option of playing ‘home’ games overseas.
France’s latest move falls into line with the latest from FIFA medical chief Michel D’Hooghe, who has warned against a return to football before September.
He told Sky Sports: “The world is not ready for competitive football, I hope this can change very quickly and I sincerely hope it does, believe me, but I think it is not the case today.
“Football remains always a contact sport and one of the first things that everybody says is that you should avoid contact at the moment. Football can only be possible if contacts are possible again.”
The same view may not be held across the board, with England’s Premier League clubs set to work towards standardised return-to-training protocols as part of ‘Project Restart’. A reported resumption date of June 8 has been mooted, although the PA news agency understands it could be two days earlier.
Spanish president Pedro Sanchez has given the green light to professional athletes to resume individual work from May 4, with group sessions set to follow from as early as May 11. While no dates have been suggested as a potential window for competitive action, the prospect at least move a little closer into view.
LaLiga president Javier Tebas had earlier laid out the case for a return in stark terms, saying: “I do not understand why there would more danger in playing football behind closed doors, with all precautionary measures, than working on an assembly line, being on a fishing boat on the high seas.
“If important economic sectors cannot restart, in a safe and controlled manner, they could end up disappearing. That could happen to professional football.”
Wednesday evening could see another major loss from the sporting calendar, with the inaugural season of The Hundred being discussed by the England and Wales Cricket Board. A postponement is set to be rubberstamped, with the new and divisive 100-ball competition shunted back to 2021.
World Athletics and the International Athletics Foundation have come together to support competitors who are struggling financially, providing a £400,000 hardship fund for the worst affected.
World Athletics president Lord Coe will lead a panel that will assess applications and allocate money.
Coe said: “Our professional athletes rely on prize money as part of their income and we’re mindful that our competition season, on both the track and road, is being severely impacted by the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Australia’s National Rugby League has announced plans to resume play on May 28.
Following talks with clubs, broadcast partners and other stakeholders, Australian Rugby League Commission chair Peter V’landys said the league would return as a 20-round competition. The original schedule was for 25 rounds prior to the play-offs.