The Dutch Eredivisie has become the first top European football league to end its 2019-20 season due to Covid-19, while Poland’s Ekstraklasa has become one of the first to spell out formal plans for a restart.
The decision by the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) on Friday came after the Dutch government extended a ban on major public events until September 1 earlier in the week, a move that effectively ended the Eredivisie season.
However, Dutch football stakeholders are now bracing themselves for potential legal action from clubs affected by the decision. The KNVB has declared that the season will be effectively voided, with no title awarded. Ajax and AZ Alkmaar had been level on points at the top of the table when the season was suspended with nine games to play, with the Amsterdam giant top on goal difference.
The KNVB said: “Unfortunately, given the measures taken by the government, it became impossible to finish the 2019-2020 season. Public health always comes first. It’s not just a football problem here given what the coronavirus is doing to society. Nonetheless, the professional football committee is aware that today’s decisions are going to cause great disappointment for some.”
The KNVB’s decision on attributing European qualification slots, plus scrapping promotion and relegation between the Eredivisie and second-tier Eerste Divisie, has caused the most controversy. Ajax and AZ are set to qualify for the Uefa Champions League, with Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Willem II set to compete in the Europa League based on the final league standings.
However, sixth-placed FC Utrecht, three points behind Willem II but with a game in hand and also still to play the KNVB Beker cup final against Feyenoord, said it would not accept the decision. In a statement, Utrecht said it will seek judicial relief and also take its case to Uefa.
The club said: “FC Utrecht is convinced that the club is entitled to a ticket for European football on sporting grounds, because of the place in the cup final and because of the current Eredivisie ranking. There is no doubt that FC Utrecht deserves a European ticket based on the sporting performances of the current season.”
Commenting on its decision, the KNVB added: “The professional football board believes that unity and solidarity are very important for Dutch (professional) football in these difficult times.
“Partly for this reason, the board is of the opinion that the professional football organisations, which will participate in the European club competitions on the basis of the decision of the board of professional football, have a heavy moral obligation to pay a portion (25 per cent) of the start money they receive in connection with this participation, to be made available for distribution among the various professional football organisations.”
The KNVB’s decision comes after pay-television broadcaster Fox Sports agreed to pay the final fee instalment for the Eredivisie, but only if the league did not unilaterally cancel the remaining matches of the 2019-20 season. The fee would be worth €22m ($23.9m).
Fox Sports holds broadcast rights for the Eredivisie in a 12-season deal running from 2013-14 to 2024-25 and worth an average guaranteed sum of €80m per season.
Meanwhile, the Ekstraklasa has said it intends to resume its season on May 29 and complete the campaign by July 19. The announcement came after Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, on Saturday gave the green light for games to be staged without fans in the stadia.
This has made Poland one of the first European countries to give a solid start date for the resumption of football. Top-tier clubs in Germany and Austria have resumed training with a view to restarting their seasons, but are awaiting government backing for an official re-start.
Ekstraklasa president Marcin Animucki said: “This is excellent news. The government’s consent to restart training gives us a chance to implement the plan we have been working on for the last four weeks. If there are no unexpected problems, and the health situation in the country allows it, after passing the preparation period the league could start on May 29.”
Legia Warsaw currently has an eight-point lead at the top of the Ekstraklasa table, with 11 rounds of games yet to play. Earlier this month, the league made its Ekstraklasa.tv OTT platform available free of charge during April as it looked to keep fans engaged in the absence of live games due to the pandemic.