02.06.2020 17:34 h

Stricken French clubs call for fans to be allowed back to games next season

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.

With leagues in neighbouring countries having since restarted or 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.

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.

"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 euros ($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 euros ($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."