THE STATE OF EUROPEAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE'S DUE TO CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK
By: Rico Luis Antonio Sinaga
"I cannot believe it, I can't believe it, football bloody hell"
Those legendary words mentioned by the football master itself, Sir Alex Ferguson, after a magical night of Champions League final in Barcelona, back on May 1999. The expression of gratitude by Sir Alex Ferguson that day can be relevant with the situation on current day, that football is unbelievably got in deeply in the life of many people, from the players, staff, pundits, until the fans itself. The enchantment of football is truly a wonderful entertainment that brings joy to its fans week in week out. Unfortunately, on this day, until this article was made, there will be no football from all of the big league until further notice. The COVID-19 pandemics that has been spread widely in most of country in the world especially Europe and Asia has brought its own sadness for football fans. World Health Organization (WHO) stated that Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.1 They also stated that at this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. On March 11th 2020, the WHO characterizes COVID-19 as a pandemic. The outcome of this situation makes each country taking a big step to deal with this pandemic. Football, especially in Europe also affected by current situation. Therefore, the big question that people keep talking about is regarding the continuity of all leagues and cups itself.
On March 17th 2020, Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) officially announced the postponement of UEFA EURO 2020 into next year. Following that statement, UEFA also announced the postponement of UEFA Champions League Finals that originally will take place on May 2020. This decision surely has lots of impact into the club competition itself, especially in Europe. Couple days before the UEFA announced their decision, the Italian Football Federation already postpone the continuity of the Serie A until further notice, considering the country itself stated as one of the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemics.2 Meanwhile, the Football Association (FA), Premier League, and also EFL have collectively agreed to suspend their competition until the situation died down. It means, all of Europe top five leagues (re: English Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Ligue 1) has been suspended until further notice due to COVID-19 pandemics. We have to agree that their decisions are undoubtedly correct and accurate. Either way, the controversy and polemics will be shown after, regarding the resolution of each league continuity after the suspension. So far, there are few suggestions that distributed widely by media regarding the solution of the big leagues flow after the suspension itself.
The action to suspend the league until further notice has been arguably the best responds that each league had been taken so far. However, most of them set the suspension bar only until April or May 2020. It means, after that, they have to come up with another decision whether to continue the suspension, resume the league, or other option. Until now, there are possibly two options that can be applied in each league to face this current situation. The first one is to resume the league as soon the situation allows. This option clearly comes up to mind after the UEFA officially announced the suspension of UEFA EURO 2020. The suspension of Tokyo Olympics 2020 also make a space for the option to be implemented. To avoid each league and all parties, such as sponsor, broadcasters to avoid such a big loss to their profit and for the sake of justice to all of teams that already played in the season that almost finished, resuming once it is deemed safe to do so will be the best possible answer. On the other hand, to ensure this concept will be successful, league must prepare to delay the opening of next season if this season league is going to continue during summer break, where it usually used as a time for players to take a time off. And also, they have to think about a solution regarding players contract that will run out on June 30th 2020, if they wanted to continue the league after all.
The next option is to null and void the league. These suggestions come up to surface after the suspension of Premier League. There are many different point of view regarding this opinion. Surely, this thing is related to the result of this year leagues and the output itself very decisive for next year football leagues and cups. The option relating to this suggestion is to finish this year with or without a champion in each league. According XXL Bundesliga Media, with the first scenario, for example the German league could be enlarged from 18 to 20 or even 22 teams in the 2020/21 season, with no club relegated and the top teams from the second tier promoted automatically. In theory, up to four or five teams would then face relegation at the end of the season.3 Meanwhile the second scenario means complete cancellation of the season without crowning a national champion and for the European cups spots will be determined based on last year league table. However, the negative aspect that have to be put as a consideration is the things that has been elaborate by sports lawyer David Seligman of Brandsmiths, such as player’s contracts in terms of their wages, bonuses and expired date, sponsor matters, broadcaster, and even gambling companies.4 For example, according to According to the Daily Mail, the league has instructed Premier League clubs to use the word 'curtailed' instead when discussing the possibility of the season being ended. This instruction will provide more legal protection against broadcasters seeking a rebate on the current £3billion television deal.5 However, since the contract with broadcaster or television rights, which are based on a contract with strong legal conditions carefully reviewed by specialists, it supposed to had an insurance clause covering a force majeure, such as the coronavirus, is included in this contract and may possibly safeguard a good part of the forecast or estimate of income that the clubs have had, in this case.
After all, the impact of football suspension may cause a major difference in some sector and one of them is economy in football itself. The head of global soccer body FIFA Gianni Infantino said that football after coronavirus will be inclusive, more social and more supportive, connected to the individual countries and at the same time more global, less arrogant and more welcoming.6 This thing is very related to this industry’s largest revenue source, which is sports retail. Football as one of the pioneer of professional sports, although not the main source of revenue, is undoubtedly the one that most impacts the production chain, with its matchday revenues, sponsorships, TV rights, player's transfers and its high media and employment character. And obviously its indirect and induced impacts. Thus, a match with closed gates, the cancellation of competitions or calendar changes, directly impacts the entire industry. Since this will be an inevitable loss, Monica de Bolle as Economist, said that governments need to give direct support to the sectors most affected by the epidemic. such as sports, entertainment and tourism, both leisure and bussiness.7
The other way to maintain the stability of economy in football can be done by the clubs and league itself. For example, The Spanish Football Federation has announced plans for a 500 million-euro package allowing clubs in the top two divisions to receive loans of up to 20 million euros "and pay it back in five or six years", according to president Luis Rubiales.8 La Liga is considering reducing player's salaries on the whole by 20 percent if the season is not completed. Similar measures could be taken in Italy. In England, the Premier League is understood to have been in discussions with the Professional Footballers' Association about deferring wage payments. In Italy, the possibility of taxing betting companies to help subsidies clubs has been considered, while in Germany rules on how licenses are awarded to professional clubs could be relaxed. The biggest uncertainty, though, surrounds when matches might be played again. If a way is found to finish the season before the summer, then the damage will be limited. Jordi Vinas, professor at Johan Cryuff Institute also mention that in professional sports, the economy impact, for the moment, is expected to be limited due to uncertainty of this season football schedule.9
In the end, whatever decisions that they choose, we hope they will prioritize the safeties way to protect every people, from the players until the fans. If needed, they can set football match will played behind closed doors until the situation had been cleared. Meanwhile, in this current time because football can't be done by working from home, all of football players should do what they can to protect and help society of the slightest thing. The example of a real impact from the football world into this current situation has been shown by the Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, that has been donated €1m towards providing medical equipment for the fight against the coronavirus in his home country Spain.10 In the end, we, the fans of football with every people in the society should stand together in facing this situation so we can get back to our daily basis, watching twenty-two men, running around, kicking and screaming in the field to spread massive joy and drama week in week out through every media that we have.
World Health Organization. "Coronavirus". who.int. https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1
Feuer, WIlliam. "Europe is now the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemics, WHO says". CNBC. March 13,2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/13/europe-is-now-the-epicenter-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic-who-says.html
Holden, Kit. "Coronavirus Crisis in Germany". Dailymail UK. March 20,2020. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-8134643/CORONAVIRUS-CRISIS-GERMANY-Borussia-Dortmund-CEO-sparks-outrage-comments.html
Winehouse, Amitai. "Why Voiding 2019-2020 Season Would Cause CHAOS". Dailymail UK. April 1st 2020. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-8173173/Coronavirus-UK-voiding-Premier-League-EFL-seasons-cause-chaos.html
Ball, Joe. "Premier League ban clubs from saying ‘null and void’ as season cancellation edges closer to help in £3bn TV battle". The Sun UK. March 28th 2020. https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/11277096/premier-league-null-void-cancellation-3bn-tv-battle/
Reuters. "FIFA chief says football will be totally different after coronavirus". The Jakarta Post. April 3rd 2020. https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/04/03/fifa-chief-says-football-will-be-totally-different-after-coronavirus.html
Somoggi, Amir. "Coronavirus Economic Impact on the Sports Industry". Sport Venue Bussiness. https://sportsvenuebusiness.com/index.php/2020/03/19/coronavirus-economic-impact-on-the-sports-industry/
France24. "Economic crisis from virus pandemic begins to bite in European football". France24. March 25th 2020. https://www.france24.com/en/20200325-economic-crisis-from-virus-pandemic-begins-to-bite-in-european-football
Vinas, Jordi. "The impact of the Covid-19 on the management of sport organizations". Johan Cryuff Institute. 27 March 2020. https://johancruyffinstitute.com/en/blog-en/sport-management/impact-covid19-sport-organizations/
Reuters. "Pep Guardiola makes €1m donation to aid Spain's fight against coronavirus". The Guardian. March 24th, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/mar/24/pep-guardiola-makes-1m-donation-to-aid-spains-fight-against-coronavirus