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Debate: Coronavirus Pandemic

1) In light of the current Coronavirus outbreak, should we be postponing games instead of continuing to play them, either publicly or behind closed doors?

Andrew Flint: I think we’re at the stage now where postponing games for a short period would make sense, but only if it is implemented across the board by UEFA. Behind closed doors is idiotic beyond belief – look at the thousands of Valencia fans huddled together. Clubs lose out on revenue, fans will still – understandably to a degree – gather, and the risk of spreading COVID-19 remains. Simply put, there is too much disparity between different associations and governments in their approaches to dealing with this.

Simon Toye: I agree that “behind closed doors” is silly. That is a punishment. Clubs are subjected to that after fouling racial regulations etc. I believe the FA are prepared to allow 3pm viewing on live tv as a way of appeasing some people who are upset but really it benefits nobody. Postponement seems the most sensible option but we are running out of time for that in terms of scheduling.

James Foster: Have to say it’s 3 out of 3 so far, ludicrous to be playing behind closed doors, although seeing Ronaldo high five imaginary fans and applauding empty stands did make me smile. As much as it pains me to say it, Liverpool could win the league in a couple of games, it’s been 3 decades since the last one, and they could be celebrating with an empty stadium. Seems a real shame for the fans. Postponement has to be the only viable option, but as Andrew alludes to, it has to be consistent across the governing bodies.

Andrew McAlister: I agree with Andrew; postponing games for a short period is probably the best policy. Playing behind closed doors is absolutely ridiculous and fans will end up gathering either way to watch matches. If the matches can be postponed and the season completed later on in the year, provided the Euros are postponed until 2021, it would mean teams’ efforts haven’t all been in vain and the players could share their biggest moments with the fans. Annoying as it is to the match-going fan, continuing to play the games publicly is not the best idea if we want to combat the spread of Covid-19, despite the arguments of many that the disease does not spread as effectively in open air environments.

2) The FIGC in Italy have proposed 3 potential alternatives should the postponement of Serie A remain in place; Play-offs to determine both the Champion and relegation to Serie B, a declaration that the current standings be accepted as final, and thirdly, simply not declaring a champion. What are your thoughts, and should this be implemented across other leagues?

ST: Option 1 seems the fairest in these circumstances but can this be done with the restrictions in place or behind closed doors? Seems a bit daft as you may as well carry on with the season in that case. 

Option 2 leads to uproar. Teams who are just picking up momentum to survive relegation would be halted in their tracks and punished. If a current first placed team is only just in front then second placed teams will claim it unfair. Don’t forget football goes beyond the premier league people lol. 

Option 3 will seem a bit like the whole season has been a waste and if things revert back as if this season hasn’t happened it could obliterate the budgets of some clubs.

Clearly I don’t have the answer to what SHOULD be done!

JF: As Simon says, if you were forced to pick one of the options and have this implemented across all the leagues, number 1 is the most palatable. Although if you extend that from Serie A to all divisions in all countries, sides like Liverpool, PSG, Celtic and Club Brugge etc may feel a little hard done to if their efforts rested on a couple of one off matches. 

Again, a very valid point for the second option, teams picking up momentum with a late push, or just getting over injuries and finally having their star player return, they may have even had a run of tough games and now have a series of expected 3 pointers in the pipeline. Is it fair that they’ve not been given the expected number of games to gather their points?

Option 3 has some major financial implications, not all clubs are profit making, and I imagine it would put many clubs under serious financial strain. Although I’d quite like Liverpool to not win the league.

As Simon says, there is no easy answer here, but whatever the solution, it needs to be consistent.

AM: As Simon and James have already noted, Option 1 remains the fairest and would lead to much less scrutiny than the others. Still, there’s the issue of when and in front of whom said matches would be played. Plus, instead of the course of a whole season defining the winners and losers of a championship, it goes down to a couple of finals and one off day can mean any previous efforts are all in vain. For instance, Lazio have had an incredible campaign thus far and it would be a shame for them to see it go to waste. Option 2 would be met by a huge backlash of clubs gaining momentum towards the end of the season, and would also be unfair towards clubs who have had so-called “easier” fixtures than their competition. 

Not declaring a champion and writing off the campaign also seems like such a waste for reasons already explained. 

To me, the most sensible answer would be to postpone the rest of the season and play it later in the year once all this blows over.

AF: Quite honestly I think all three are rubbish. Leagues should never be prematurely decided, but to just miss out on declaring a champion is too extreme. Teams have planned all season for a full season, so to use playoffs or use current standings is unfair.

3) With Euro 2020 fast approaching, and many of the host countries currently fighting to stem the spread of Covid-19, can you see the tournament being postponed for a year or potentially cancelled like the Indian Wells Tennis Tournament due to start on the 25th March?

JF: I think that if we go ahead with postponing the domestic competitions and then playing the remaining games closer to the summer, it makes complete sense to play the Euros next year. If I’m honest I have no idea what the knock on effect to each host country/city will be with regards to any clashing events in 2021 etc, but we can’t cancel the tournament, not when there is a potential gap in the calendar next year.

AM: If the current campaigns are to be postponed and played later on in the year, then there will likely be no other option than to play the tournament next summer when there is a gap in the calendar. However, as James discussed previously, the reorganisation of the Euros could cause other problems with locations and dates etc. Looks like the Olympics in Japan will be forced to take place next year too, so it will be interesting how easy it is to reorganise an event of such magnitude.

ST: Cancelling the tournament would be strange. Postponing for a year may be a decent choice but would have a domino effect on next years U21 and Women’s Euro tournaments. Not to mention sporting events all over the world to reschedule like the Olympics as Andrew pointed out.

Perhaps it would be a good excuse for pushing the World Cup date due in Qatar to a cooler time period.

AF: The whole concept in the first place was mad so personally I’d be delighted to see it altered. In what has now been officially classed as a global pandemic though, it would be verging on evil to allow it. Whether we like it or not, there will be plenty of sports events that will be cancelled; this highlights another problem, which is football’s insanely (greedily?) packed calendar.

I’d definitely favour postponing it until next summer, and restaging it in a single country that has recently hosted a major tournament, or is already capable, like Russia, Germany or England.

4) Many fans will have already bought tickets and paid for hotels and travel for upcoming games and tournaments, should football clubs and governing bodies be compensating them for this?

AM: Football is an expensive game. Even discounting Champions League away days, fans spend thousands each season on tickets on travel to away games and, in my opinion, regardless of whether the games are played behind closed doors or cancelled, the fans deserve compensation. If the matches are to be postponed and played later in the year, the tickets should obviously still be valid but any trains or hotels booked are a waste of money.

It’s not the fault of the club or the governing body that the games are cancelled, but the fans are the real heart of football and deserve compensation from those who make the decisions. Yet, for clubs in lower leagues, having to pay out compensation while missing out on income could cause other financial worry.

AF: Unfortunately there isn’t a simple answer to this in my opinion. UEFA could show common sense by acting quickly and cancelling all games in the short term, offering some compensation from their multi-billion pound reserves and earn some rare goodwill from fans while also acting sensibly.

On the other hand it simply isn’t their responsibility so it can’t be forced on them. COVID-19 is out of their control, so amendments made to fixtures due to it are not their fault. As for clubs, certainly not: they are already losing out from lost matchday revenue, and it might even encourage fans to keep travelling to games behind closed doors knowing there’s a chance they’ll be bailed out anyway.

ST: Compensation is a tricky one. As Andrew says, COVID-19 isn’t the fault of any club or governing body. Insurance companies would probably call it an “act of god” to disclaim responsibility. 

In terms of hotels etc it may be simply put that fans should have booked with free cancellations that most hotels offer albeit for a slightly higher price.

As for tickets, if postponement is the result then the tickets can still be offered open for the new date which might appease some fans. Cancellation though may affect season ticket holders though as they’ve paid for a full season and been short changed. Could an offset on the following season ticket price be promoted to ensure the regular fans are satisfied and sure to return the next season?

JF: Such a tough one, whilst many football fans spend almost all their disposable income on going to matches, planning and budgeting way in advance due to the soaring costs, it unfortunately isn’t football’s responsibility to deal with Pandemics. That being said, I agree with the guys that postponed tickets should be honoured, unless you can’t make the game, in which case there may potentially be a case for UEFA to use reserves as AF states. 

Clubs could potentially help out fans, but then that sets a dangerous precedent, some certainly won’t be able to afford it, so that should be on a case by case, voluntary basis. Ultimately I feel that although there is no obvious solution, we’ll likely see varying responses from the governing bodies and clubs involved, probably causing some real heartache and arguments along the way.

James Foster, Huddersfield, UK. IT worker by day, Editor at Heart of Football by night. Lover of Manchester United, Football Manager and the football stories you never hear. Fed up of the monotony of regurgitated content about how amazing Messi is and how Pep is the world’s greatest manager, I wanted to know WHY he’s the greatest manager. But most of all, I wanted to write about it myself.

1 comment on “Debate: Coronavirus Pandemic

  1. Null and void it! Dont want liverpool to win it lol

    Like

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