Covid-19 disruptions leave world of sport in disarray

Uefa still have five rounds -for some of the clubs - to finish
Uefa still have five rounds -for some of the clubs - to finish

The world record for the longest domino line that was successfully tilted over consisted of 15 524 stones, and it took exactly five minutes and four seconds from the time the first stone was tipped to when the last one fell.

Even though nobody really knows the exact number of sporting events that have been affected by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic that has caused havoc across all aspects of life around the world, it is likely that very few codes have been left untouched.

But, like the stones in a domino row, seemingly unconnected events are intertwined and the decisions made by sports officials in one country have had an effect on matters in another.

On Thursday, the English Premier League (PL) extended the suspension of its matches until April 30. Initially, matches were suspended until April 4.

Read: No soccer matches in England until end of April

Currently, all games in the English Football League, the PL and the top two tiers of women’s football are suspended.

Games throughout Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and all major European leagues are similarly affected at the moment, as officials work to stop the virus from spreading.

Liverpool have a massive 25-point lead at the top of the league table and could need as little as one or two victories to lift their first championship title since 1990.

In a statement this week, the Premiership reiterated that it was aiming to ensure that this year’s league programme was completed.

“We are united in our commitment to finding ways of resuming the 2019/20 football season, and ensuring that all domestic and European club leagues and cup matches are played as soon as it is safe and possible to do so,” it said.

Georginio Wijnaldum of Liverpool celebrates scoring Liverpool's first goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Liverpool FC and Atletico Madrid at Anfield on March 11, 2020 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. Picture: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

“We have collectively supported Uefa in postponing this year’s Euro [tournament] to create space in the calendar to ensure domestic and European club league and cup matches have an increased opportunity to be played and, in doing so, maintain the integrity of each competition.”

Most football fans – not only Liverpool supporters – will be eager to see the league programme completed, even if it is not on schedule.

The English Football Association’s rules state that the league has to be completed by the end of May, but this will not possible, even if teams play twice a week. For instance, Manchester City – if they went all the way to the FA Cup and the Champions League – could still have to play 19 matches, which would take them well into July – at best.

The Football Association has agreed to waive the rule, but, even without it, the prospect of playing all competitions to completion seems remote.

There has been some sympathy and support for Liverpool, even from opposing club officials. Brighton’s chief executive, Paul Barber, said that they did not want the league to be declared null and void.

“We don’t want this option because every league starts with an expectation of completing all the fixtures and we really want to be able to do that. At the moment, it’s really hard to imagine putting on a football game in the Premiership in two or three weeks’ time; it’s hard to imagine that given the scenario that we are in,” he said.

“If we were to freeze the league, then for me it would be incredibly unjust for Liverpool not to be awarded the title.”

Another obstacle standing in the way of ensuring that professional leagues throughout Europe complete their domestic programmes is that their interests, and those of Europe’s football governing body Uefa, are not necessarily the same.

The governing body has already said that the Euros, planned to take place in June and July, would be played next year.

But Uefa’s crown jewel, the Champions League, still has five rounds – for some of the clubs – to finish the competition.

Like the PL, not finishing the league programme will have drastic consequences for Uefa, both for the individual clubs and – more importantly – for the associations.

Read: Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc for European football

As the world has not seen anything similar to Covid-19 happen in modern times, there is no way of knowing how everything will play out.

For instance, do advertisers still have to pay broadcasters for adverts, even if the games are not being televised live? Do broadcasters have to pay the league or associations if the matches are not being played in the specified time period? Are clubs entitled to receive their share of TV money even if the league or association does not receive it?

Only time will tell.

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