Paris (AFP) – It is the land of the world champions, but is it really a football country? That is the question some in France have been asking this week while its European neighbours work to bring the sport back after the coronavirus shutdown.
Debate has raged ever since the French league decided to bring a premature end to the season in late April with 10 rounds of matches unplayed.
In contrast, a fortnight has already passed since the German Bundesliga restarted.
On Thursday Italy’s sports minister confirmed that Serie A will return on June 20, while La Liga and the Premier League both look set to be back underway by then.
“Like idiots” was the headline on the front of L’Equipe on Friday, as the sports daily questioned why such a hasty decision was made by the league (LFP) to end the season.
The LFP’s announcement at the time was based on French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s statement that the season “cannot restart” as the pandemic raged in late April.
However, France has been steadily easing its lockdown in recent weeks and Philippe stated on Thursday that team sports could restart after June 21.
“We will be the only major footballing country in Europe to stick to this decision and to have not conditioned it to the evolution of the pandemic and the easing of the lockdown,” wrote L’Equipe’s Vincent Duluc.
France has officially recorded nearly 29,000 deaths from Covid-19, far more than Germany but fewer than Italy or the UK and fewer than Spain per head of population.
France is not the only European football nation to have ended its season, with the Netherlands notably voiding the campaign altogether.
Paris Saint-Germain were crowned champions for the third year running. Amiens and Toulouse were relegated and those clubs have since launched legal action.
However, the leading voice against the early ending has been Jean-Michel Aulas, president of Lyon. They were seventh when the season stopped in mid-March and so were denied European qualification.
Neither they nor PSG will now have any competitive action before the Champions League — in which both are still involved — is expected to restart in August.
“I am fully convinced that what has happened was not for the good of the clubs or French football as a whole,” Aulas told Le Parisien.
– Economic damage –
His chief argument has been economic. Earlier in May the league said it would have to take out a government-guaranteed loan of some 225 million euros ($250 million) to tide over clubs impacted by the loss in income from broadcasters because so many games were left unplayed.