French soccer, other sports will not resume before September: PM


PARIS (Reuters) – French professional soccer, rugby 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.

France has the world’s fourth-highest death toll from the virus, behind the United States, Italy and Spain. Football authorities had hoped to resume their season in June.

Philippe did not specifically mention the Tour de France, which the International Cycling Union (UCI) said earlier this month would be postponed to Aug. 29-Sept. 20 from its original June 27 start date due to the pandemic.

It was not immediately clear whether the Tour, the world’s biggest annual cycling competition, would now start without spectators or whether it would be moved back a few more days.

The sports ministry and Tour organisers were not available for comment, while the UCI could not be reached.

The Tour’s schedule will impact other big cycling events, as the UCI has said Italy’s Giro and Spain’s Vuelta would follow it in a revised calendar.

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 body UEFA has given leagues a May 25 deadline to inform them 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