France to restart games with 5000-fans limit


France opening sporting venues Image: Gérard Al-Fil

France has revealed ambitious plans to resume sporting events with fans by the end of July. This was revealed by Roxana Mărăcineanu, France’s Minister for Sport.

The former Olympic swimmer told mediapersons that she was working towards opening stadiums to no more than 5,000 fans – the limit set by the Government – at any one time, in time for the start of the 2020-21 Ligue 1 seasons, which is currently scheduled to begin on August 23.

Mărăcineanu also mentioned the Tour de France, which has been postponed until the end of August, as a target for having fans back at events.

The Tour de France is an annual men’s multiple stage bicycle race primarily held in France, while also occasionally passing through nearby countries. Like the other Grand Tours, it consists of 21 day-long stages over the course of 23 days.

She remarked, “My aim is to give us the chance to have a popular sport, with fans in the stadiums, even in limited numbers, as early as the end of July, if it’s possible.”

Pointing out to Germany’s Bundesliga, which has completed four rounds of fixtures behind closed doors since mid-May, Mărăcineanu added, “When I see the matches behind closed doors at the moment, I’d much prefer to involve at least the groups of supporters so that they can enjoy the sporting spectacle.”

“As for the Tour de France, we’ll see where we are in September, but we’re hopeful that things will go in the right direction. It remains to be seen the impact of the broader relaxation now in force, whether in schools, travel, businesses, etc., which will have a significant impact on the Tour de France,” she further added.

She went on to explain that the 5,000 limit “remains in line with the evolution of the epidemic”, noting that “5,000 people in a stadium with 80,000 seats, like the Stade de France, is obviously easier to manage”.

Mărăcineanu also explained about the French Government’s 10-person rule, which limits how many people are allowed in public spaces at any one time but could also mean that groups of 10 could access the stadium together and point a way toward allowing fans entry.

Mărăcineanu informed, “The gauge is still 5,000 maximum, so we won’t be able to exceed it, but it’s like the 10-person gauge in the public space: It all depends on where you are. There is the possibility of grouping in five groups of 10 if we are in a large gymnasium for example. Maybe it will be the same for sport.”

Defending the French authorities’ decision to call an early end to the 2019-20 football seasons, Mărăcineanu explained that the decision was taken by the country’s Ligue de Football Professionnel, and it was not a sole decision of the Government.

She asserted, “My job is to secure those decisions, not to let anyone down and to prepare for the future. I repeat what I’ve already said: We took this decision so as not to put our sportsmen and women at risk. We decided to treat them as citizens like any other.”

On the edge

On the edge French football clubs have called for fans to be allowed into matches in time for the start of the next season and urged the French Government to provide financial help after the early end to this campaign due to the unprecedented health crisis which has emerged due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The season was declared over early at the end of April, at the height of the pandemic and with 10 rounds of matches left to be played, after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that football could not restart. Paris Saint-Germain was named Ligue 1 champions.

Paris Saint-Germain Football Club is a French professional football club based in Paris.

With leagues in neighboring countries having since restarted or set to return to the pitch soon, various voices in the French game have criticized the decision to end the season early rather than waiting for the health crisis to abate.

France has been one of the worst-hit countries in the world by the pandemic, with almost 29,000 deaths, but the situation has now improved and a strict lockdown has been steadily eased in recent weeks.

However, in a joint statement on Tuesday, the unions of clubs in the top two divisions admitted that the league and French Football Federation were left with “no other choice” but to bring a premature end to the season following the Government’s announcement.

“But, rather than looking in the rear-view mirror, we prefer to look forward,” the statement added.

They said they were working to put in place a “health protocol” and on a return to collective team training while also hoping to “organize training camps and friendly matches in the presence of spectators, with the start of next season in stadiums open to large crowds”.

In addition, the clubs called on the Government “to find solutions” for their economic woes after already nearly three months going without income principally due to the loss of ticketing and broadcasting revenue.

Several club executives have said the early end to the season has burnt a huge hole in the pocket of French football in the range of 500 million and 800 million euros ($559-895 million).

Meanwhile, the head of the company that has become the main domestic broadcaster of Ligue 1 in a record deal starting next season has slammed the decision to end the season early, calling it a “strategic error”.

“There was a strategic agreement between the leading leagues and UEFA to finish the season,” said Jaume Roures, the Spanish Chief Executive of Mediapro, at the launch of his company’s new channel Telefoot recently.

“For us, breaking that pact was a strategic error,” added Roures.

Mediapro won the bulk of the rights to show Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 matches for four years starting next season in a total deal worth a record 1.217 billion euros ($1.36 billion) annually.

However, Roures was worried that his company’s new product would be diminished with struggling clubs being forced to sell players.

“That could affect the quality of the competition next season and obviously we are not going to be happy if that happens,” he asserted.

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