MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – UEFA’s chief medical official says it is “definitely possible” to plan a restart of European soccer leagues despite the Dutch and French ending their seasons and Italy’s sports minister raising the prospect of a similar fate for Serie A.
The comments from UEFA’s Tim Meyer contrast with FIFA’s medical committee chairman Michel D’Hooghe who on Tuesday said football should not be played until at least September to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
Meyer, who is chairman of the Medical Committee at European soccer’s governing body, said on Wednesday that provided the right steps were taken, the game could plan a resumption of the current season.
“In discussing any return to playing competitive, elite level football, the health of the players, all those involved in potential games and the public at large is of paramount importance,” said the German.
“All football organisations which are planning the restart of their competitions will produce comprehensive protocols dictating sanitary and operational conditions ensuring that the health of those involved in the games is protected and the integrity of public policy is preserved.
“Under these conditions and in full respect of local legislation, it is definitely possible to plan the restart of competitions suspended during the 2019/20 season,” added Meyer, who also chairs the newly-established UEFA medical sub-group which is examining health issues surrounding a return to football.
The Dutch league has cancelled the season and on Tuesday French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said professional soccer and other league sports will not be allowed to return before September.
Italy’s Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said on Wednesday the country’s top-flight Serie A championship looks unlikely to resume this season.
“I see an increasingly narrow path for the resumption of the Serie A… If I were one of the presidents (of the clubs) I would focus on the next season,” Spadafora told private TV broadcaster La7.
“These decisions (in France and in the Netherlands) could push Italy to follow this line, which would become a European line,” Spadafora said.
He added that he thought a majority of Serie A presidents may soon ask to suspend the league and prepare for the next championship.
The world soccer governing body’s medical chief D’Hooghe said it was not realistic to play before September — which is scheduled to be the start of next season for most countries.
“This is the most dramatic situation we have lived in since the Second World War. We should not underestimate it, we must be realistic,” he said regarding the pandemic which has forced the game’s suspension in almost all countries.
The comments of the veteran Belgian football administrator come as the Bundesliga moves towards a possible re-start next month, while the Premier League is hoping games could be played behind closed doors in June.
FIFA’s D’Hooghe said it was too early for players to be coming into contact with one another, at least while social distancing regulations are in place.
“The world is not ready for competitive football, I hope this can change very quickly and I sincerely hope that. Today you need more patience, added D’Hooghe, a doctor who was formerly a member of FIFA’s powerful executive committee.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris