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Italian FA chief hopeful small number of fans can attend games as stricken French clubs cry for help

Serie A returns in mid-June, while the Ligue 1 season was declared over in early April.

A general view of footballs.
A general view of footballs.
Image: Kieran Cleeves

ITALIAN FOOTBALL FEDERATION president [FIGC] Gabriele Gravina says he hopes that a small number of fans will be able to attend matches before the season finishes.

“Fans in stadiums? It is my heartfelt wish to be able to see a small presence in stadium for the end of the championship,” Gravina told Italian radio on Monday.

“It seems unthinkable that in a stadium with 60,000 or 80,000 seats, there is no space for a minimal percentage of spectators who can attend the match with all necessary precautions.”

Italian football has been suspended since 9 March because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 33,500 in the country, but will return to action mid-June with the season scheduled to end in early August.

Matches will be played behind closed doors and adhering to a strict health protocol.

But there have been growing calls for stadiums to be opened to supporters in a limited capacity where conditions allow.

“Certainly it is premature today but with the resumption of the championship, there could be a new little signal of hope for our country,” continued Gravina. “It would also be a way to reward enthusiasts after a particularly difficult period.”

Cinemas and theatres will be able to reopen in Italy from June 15 with limited places and following social distancing rules. “I’m following the situation for cinemas, theatres, cultural events,” added the FIGC president.

Elsewhere, struggling French football clubs have called for fans to be allowed into matches in time for the start of next season and urged the country’s government to provide financial help after the early end to this campaign due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The season was declared over early at the end of April, at the height of the pandemic and with 10 rounds of matches unplayed, after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that football could not restart. Paris Saint-Germain were named Ligue 1 champions.

While leagues in neighbouring countries having since restarted or are set to return to action soon, various voices in the French game have criticised the decision to end the season early rather than waiting for the health crisis to subside.

France has been one of the worst-hit countries in the world by the pandemic, with almost 29,000 deaths, but the situation has improved and a strict lockdown has been steadily eased in recent weeks.

france-paris-covid-19-psg-free-meal Paris Saint-Germain are providing up to 1,200 meals a day free-of-charge to help feed healthcare workers on the frontlines of the Covid-19 crisis. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

However, in a joint statement on Tuesday, the unions of clubs in the top two divisions admitted that the league and French Football Federation were left with “no other choice” but to bring a premature end to the season following the government’s announcement.

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“But rather than looking in the rear-view mirror, we prefer to look forward,” the statement added.

They said they were working to put in place a “health protocol” and on a return to collective team training while also hoping to “organise training camps and friendly matches in the presence of spectators, with the start of next season in stadiums open to large crowds”.

In addition, the clubs called on the government “to find solutions” for their economic woes after already nearly three months without income principally due to the loss of ticketing and broadcasting revenue.

Several club executives have said the early end to the season has left French football with a financial black hole of between €500 million and €800 million [$559-895 million].

Meanwhile, the head of the company that has become the main domestic broadcaster of Ligue 1 in a record deal starting next season has slammed the decision to end the season early, calling it a “strategic error”.

“There was a strategic agreement between the leading leagues and Uefa to finish the season,” said Jaume Roures, the Spanish chief executive of Mediapro, at the launch of his company’s new channel Telefoot on Tuesday. “For us, breaking that pact was a strategic error.”

Mediapro won the bulk of the rights to show Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 matches for four years starting next season in a total deal worth a record €1.217 billion [$1.36 billion] annually.

However, Roures expressed concern that his company’s new product would be diminished with struggling clubs being forced to sell players.

“That could affect the quality of the competition next season and obviously we are not going to be happy if that happens.”

© – AFP, 2020

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