French government calls off soccer, rugby seasons

psg-celebrate-winning-ligue-1-title

Paris Saint Germain players during the trophy ceremony as they celebrate PSG's French League One title, at the Parc des Princes Stadium, in Paris, France, Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Francois Mori/AP)

PARIS — The French soccer and rugby leagues will not complete their matches this season after the government called them off as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

France is set to come out of lockdown on May 11, but the government banned all major sporting events until September.

"The 2019-20 season of professional sport, notably soccer, won’t be able to resume," French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday.

Rugby’s Top 14 league had reached the semifinal stage and France’s top two soccer divisions have 10 games remaining in their seasons.

Paris Saint-Germain leads the topflight and is still hopeful of somehow playing in the Champions League, where it is through to the quarterfinals.

"We respect of course the French Government decision," PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi said. "We plan on competing in the Champions League with UEFA agreement — wherever and whenever it is held. If it is not possible to play in France we will play our matches abroad subject to the best conditions for our players and the safety of all our staff."

The French soccer league said it will meet on Thursday to study "the sporting and financial consequences of the measures announced."

The LFP must also decide on the league standings. PSG is 12 points ahead of second-place Marseille, which holds the last position for automatic entry into next season’s Champions League.

Third place goes into the qualifying rounds, with Rennes one point ahead of fourth-place Lille.

Toulouse and 19th-place Amiens are in the automatic relegation slots, with Nimes in 18th place — which normally leads to a relegation-promotion playoff with the team third in division two (Ajaccio).

While PSG had completed its Champions League last-16 games, Lyon was unable to play its second leg against Juventus in Turn after beating the Italian champions 1-0 at home.

UEFA has given leagues until May 25 to provide details on how and if they can complete their season. Germany’s Bundesliga wants to restart within weeks and England is trying to complete the Premier League by getting underway again in June.

Javier Tebas, the president of the Spanish league, questioned the decision to scrap the French league’s remaining games.

"I do not understand why there would more danger in playing football behind closed doors, with all precautionary measures, than working on an assembly line," he said. "If important economic sectors cannot restart, in a safe and controlled manner, they could end up disappearing. That could happen to professional football. In other countries teams are already training, that’s the example to follow."

It had initially been forecast that French soccer could potentially resume in late June, in empty stadiums and with a strict medical protocol in place. But the president of French soccer club Toulouse, which is last in the first division, applauded the government’s decision to extend a ban on sports events.

"Soccer emerges as the winner," Olivier Sadran told sports daily L’Equipe’s website. "The country is suffering in terms of health and will start to suffer economically. It would be very badly thought of to break away from that. The politicians took the right decision."

If the end of lockdown in France is confirmed, people will be able to exercise freely but individually and with certain restrictions, like social distancing, kept in place. People will not be able to exercise in locations with closed roofs "or take part in collective (team) or contact sports," Philippe said.

He also said events with more 5,000 people, like "big sporting and cultural events" will not take place before September.

The Tour de France was rescheduled earlier this month for Aug. 29-Sept. 20, starting in the southern city of Nice.

The French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris was also rescheduled for Sept. 20-Oct. 4, with recent reports speculating it could be pushed back until Sept. 27.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.