UEFA eases stance on leagues that want to end season early

GENEVA (AP) — UEFA softened its tone on Tuesday toward competition organisers who want to end seasons early before completing all games — with some governments set to take those decisions out of football’s hands.

UEFA’s declaration that “special cases” may not face any sanctions came just hours before the Dutch government extended a ban on large-scale events in the Netherlands until September 1 — effectively ending the country’s top-level soccer season.

With no clear end in sight for European football’s shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic, Belgium had been the first top-tier league this month to say it wanted to declare its current standings final.

That prompted a quick response from UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, who warned that countries risked losing Champions League and Europa League entries if they took premature decisions.

However, the announcement on Tuesday by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte showed the limit of football officials’ authority.

The Dutch soccer federation published a statement saying it planned to end the 2019-20 season and would consult with UEFA.

The Eredivisie league said clubs would speak tomorrow “about the consequences of the decision.” When the league was halted, Ajax topped the standings ahead of AZ Alkmaar on goal difference, with both set to advance to the Champions League qualifying rounds.

Earlier on Tuesday, UEFA had hosted talks with its 55 member federations and toned down its previous directive to “a strong recommendation“ to try to complete domestic seasons.

UEFA’s new stance is that “some special cases will be heard.”

“With this in mind, UEFA is currently developing some guidelines concerning participation in its club competitions, in order to assist its member associations in case of a cancelled league or cup,” Europe’s football body said in a statement.

An executive committee today can confirm those guidelines.

Belgian officials are set to resume talks on Friday when UEFA’s position is clearer.

Domestic club competitions aim to play into July and August — likely in empty stadiums if restarting games is even possible.