French soccer won't resume before September, prime minister saysFILE PHOTO: Ligue 1 - Paris St Germain v Bordeaux
By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) - French professional soccer and other league sports will not be allowed to return before September, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday, in comments that appeared to call an end to their 2019-20 seasons.
The French football league is expected to decide in May on exactly how to end the Ligue 1 season, which currently has Paris St Germain leading Olympique Marseille by 12 points. The 2020-2021 season had been due to begin in August.
"The 2019-2020 season of professional sports, especially that of football, will not be able to resume," Philippe told parliament when announcing plans to end the national lockdown that has been in place since March 17.
"To give event organisers visibility, I want to make it clear that major sporting and cultural events, in particular festivals, major trade fairs, all events that bring together more than 5,000 participants and are therefore the subject of a declaration at the police headquarters and must be organised well in advance, cannot be held before September," Philippe said.
The football league said in a statement it would initially convene on April 30 to discuss the sporting and economic consequences of the decision before a second meeting that should formally end the 2019-2020 season.
Decisions on which teams qualify for European competitions, relegation and promotion will also have to be made.
France has the world's fifth-highest death toll from the virus, behind the United States, Italy, Spain and Britain. Football authorities had hoped to resume their season in June.
L'Equipe sports daily newspaper reported that the league was still hoping to begin the new season on Aug. 7, but behind closed doors.
French football federation boss Noel Le Graet told Telegramme newspaper that he had sent a letter to the Sports Ministry to clarify whether that would be possible.
All major European soccer leagues have been halted due to the spread of the new coronavirus, and none have resumed yet.
The Dutch declared their soccer season over when the government extended a ban on public events to Sept. 1.
The Eredivisie has said there will be no title awarded and no relegations or promotions made - a decision strongly criticised by some of the clubs affected.
European soccer's governing body UEFA has given leagues a May 25 deadline to inform it of their plans to restart their domestic competitions.
The German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and English Premier League have all said they want to finish their seasons.
(Reporting by John Irish, Michel Rose, Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ken Ferris)