Slowly but steadily, football is preparing for a return from the shadows of coronavirus pandemic.
With Italy’s Serie A setting a date for its return from the coronavirus shutdown and the English Premier League also now agreed on when to resume, European football is bracing for a summer filled with football.
As things stands, sport’s big ticket events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, European football championships, Wimbledon, and the British Open golf tournament have all been cancelled this year because of the coronavirus. There is no decision yet on the men’s T20 World Cup and Indian Premier League.
However, as the world slowly emerges from the pandemic, sport is making a comeback.
The German Bundesliga was the first major European league to return on May 16, but the Faroe Islands came back before that. Football is also being played again in Estonia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. In fact, in Hungary, fans are set to be allowed in the stadium. Belarus was the one country on the continent where it never went away during the coronavirus crisis.
On Thursday, Italy’s sports minister confirmed that Serie A will return on June 20, while La Liga in Spain will resume its season in the week beginning June 8.
Here are confirmed restart dates:
England: June 17
Spain: Week of June 8 (expected)
Italy: June 20
Denmark – May 28
Poland – May 29
Serbia, Ukraine – May 30
Austria – June 2
Portugal – June 3
Slovenia – June 5
Croatia, Greece – June 6
Spain – week beginning June 8
Turkey – June 12
Norway – June 16
Italy – June 20
Russia – June 21
Finland – July 1
Still awaiting green light
The Premier League on Thursday announced the date of June 17 for its return, although that remains “provisional” for now, according to chief executive Richard Masters.
He admitted the date “cannot be confirmed until we have met all the safety requirements needed, as the health and welfare of all participants and supporters is our priority.”
Meanwhile, the Swiss league will vote on Friday whether to give the green light for a resumption on June 20.
The Netherlands was the first European country to bring an early end to the season on April 24 as the Eredivisie was cancelled without a champion being crowned.
France then followed suit on April 30, ending the season with 10 rounds of matches unplayed.
The season was not voided, though, with Paris Saint-Germain confirmed as champions, European places dished out and relegation and promotion between the top two divisions maintained on a two-up, two-down basis.
Belgium also ended its season, with Club Brugge champions, after the Belgian government announced it was suspending all sporting competitions until July 31.
In Scotland the season had already been called early in the three divisions below the top flight and the Premiership followed suit on May 18, with Celtic being crowned champions for the ninth year running.
Luxembourg and Cyprus also called an end to their seasons but without naming a champion.
Football at the forefront
One of the sports that was most hit by Covid-19 was football, given the role it played in the actual spread of virus in Europe. Italy and Spain, even England, seems to have seen the spread of coronavirus happen at football events, while the toll in those countries rose sharply before the curve started to flatten.
But Premier League is now starting to take steps: Aston Villa vs Sheffield United and Manchester City vs Arsenal will take place on that date, followed by a full match round beginning on June 19.
Due to the coronavirus all matches will take place behind closed doors with Liverpool just two wins away from a first league title in 30 years.
In Italy, no top-flight matches have been played since Sassuolo beat Brescia 3-0 on March 9, before the championship was suspended by a pandemic which has killed over 33,000 people in Italy.
The German Bundesliga has been showing the way for the top leagues when it became the first major European league to resume on May 16 under strict conditions. Matches are behind closed doors with players elbow-bumping to celebrate goals. Some grounds have allowed cardboard cutouts of fans to fill up empty spaces. The league wanted to complete the last nine rounds of matches before June 30 to secure around 300 million euros ($325 million) in television money.
In Spain, La Liga president Javier Tebas said he hopes the season will start again on June 11 with the Seville derby, “one game for all of Spain”.
“It is possible that on Thursday, June 11, we could have the first Liga game,” Tebas told Movistar Plus television. “We would like it to be the Seville derby – Real Betis v Sevilla – at 2200 (2000 GMT).”
Barcelona sit top of the table, two points ahead of Real Madrid.
What about Uefa Champions League?
Uefa is studying options for the format of this season’s interrupted Champions League, amid reports on Friday that European football’s governing body is considering moving the final from its scheduled venue in Istanbul.
The Turkish city was due to host the final this Saturday at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, but the tournament was suspended in mid-March at the last-16 stage because of the pandemic.
Uefa still hopes to conclude the competition by the end of August, but with major changes to the format likely and games set to be played behind closed doors.
“We are looking at all the options regarding the calendar and the format of the competition in the working group involving the clubs, leagues and national associations,” a Uefa spokesman told AFP.
“No decision has been taken yet but there should be at the Executive Committee meeting on June 17.”
According to a Uefa document seen by AFP, August 29 could be chosen as the new date for the final.
The New York Times reported Friday that the final would be moved from Turkey but that Istanbul could be chosen as host of a future final, when it is safe for fans to travel from abroad in large numbers.
(With AFP inputs)