On Friday, the English Premier League took an unprecedented step, in unprecedented times. All fixtures were suspended until “at least 4 April” as the world battles to deal with the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sporting events have been postponed or cancelled around the world amid the spread of the virus, with sporting bodies and national governments forced into an action unprecedented in the professional era.
We have never been here before. And with uncertainty over the containment of the outbreak persisting, some clubs believe that the season won’t be restarted.
So, what happens if the English Premier League cannot be completed?
Never before in the history of top division football has a season been brought to a halt so close to the end. During the Second World War, the season was abandoned three games in. During the first, football simply wasn’t played. Fixtures being rearranged because of other factors happen, sure, but this isn’t just about the EPL.
Resuming the season much later will have a knock-on effect on the next season, transfer windows and promotion and relegation of teams. The latter will have a monumental financial impact for several clubs involved.
FA chairman Greg Clarke told The Times he does not believe the domestic season will be completed. He cited financial implications on the clubs involved.
But it’s not just the clubs, the league itself could be in trouble with a senior broadcasting source telling the publication: “The commercial reality for the Premier League and Uefa is that if they don’t complete their seasons then they are in breach of their broadcasting contracts.”
The complications of postponement are far-reaching, though. From scheduling to travel and security arrangements, transfer windows, the start of the next season and continental competitions and qualifiers – Euro 2020 and the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers for example – sandwiched in between.
Officials from all 20 clubs will hold another emergency meeting in the coming week where a course of sorts will be plotted. By then there is expected to be further clarity on Euro 2020.
Should that tournament be postponed, some sources say by as long as a year, that might offer the chance to use the tournament’s scheduled end date – 12 July 2020 – as the final date for the European season.
Truth is, at this point, nobody really knows what will happen if the English Premier League season can’t be completed. But we can pontificate.
What might happen if the Premier League season can’t be completed?
There are a few, but none seem particularly appealing. And whatever is decided, there will be outrage.
Option one: Liverpool are champions, no relegation
Liverpool are just two wins away from mathematically being declared champions. One possible solution is to simply give the title to Liverpool, have no relegation this season, and play next season with 22 Premier League teams.
Option two: Declare the season null and void
West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brad, has already jumped on this bandwagon. Writing in a column in The Sun that it would be the “only fair and reasonable thing to do”, while admitting that Liverpool “might be robbed of their first title in 30 years”.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport might want to clear some space in their diaries should this be the case.
Option three: Use the table as it currently stands as the final table
Highly unlikely considering Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Norwich would be condemned to relegation having played just 29 matches.
Option four: Further delays, shorten the next season
It’ll be the most anti-climactic title win ever, but Liverpool have waited 30 years, they won’t be too distraught having to wait a little while longer. It’s radical, but the season end could be delayed to when the 2020-21 season was due to start. The final fixtures can be played and the next season shortened to accommodate it.
Antoinette is a recovering journalist, having written for Sports Illustrated, The Guardian, Daily Maverick and others. She has won multiple SAB Journalist of the Year awards, across a variety of categories. She thinks it’s strange writing about herself in the third person, unless she’s playing as herself in The Sims…which she’s been doing for over 20 years.