UTRECHT, Netherlands — A judge on Thursday upheld the Dutch soccer association’s decision to scrap relegation and promotion for the top-flight Eredivisie after it cut short the season due to the coronavirus crisis.
The top two clubs in the second-tier division, Cambuur Leeuwarden and De Graafschap Doetinchem, launched a legal challenge to the April 24 decision, seeking to seal promotion in court.
Judge Hans Zuurmond rejected their arguments, saying the Dutch association, the KNVB, has the power to take such a decision following a season cut short by exceptional circumstances.
Zuurmond said that because of the coronavirus the KNVB "had to take a decision with its back to the wall. Doing nothing was not an option."
The KNVB had to act in the interest of all clubs, Zuurmond said in the live-streamed ruling.
"It is bitter for Cambuur and De Graafschap, but that is not enough to overturn the decision," he added.
The clubs and the KNVB have the right to appeal the decision.
The decision marked the first time a court has ruled in a legal challenge to one of the major European league’s coronavirus stoppages.
KNVB Director Eric Gudde said outside the court that it was "a bad day with bad feelings because in every situation someone is very unsatisfied and I understand their feeling."
But he stood by the association’s decision to scrap promotion and relegation because eight rounds of matches were yet to be played.
"I’m completely convinced that our solution is the best solution," he said.
De Graafschap Director Hans Martijn Ostendorp said he was disappointed that the Netherlands was the only league he had heard of that is scrapping promotion and relegation.
"It is extremely painful, but the judge today said that it was a decision the association could take," he said, and called on the KNVB to compensate the clubs.
"Let’s talk about that because the damage is enormous," he said.
Gudde said the KNVB is considering financial compensation.
The Netherlands on April 24 became the first top-tier European league to cancel the remainder of the season. But clubs that felt disadvantaged by the terms immediately announced plans to launch legal battles.
Under the decision, the KNVB also said that Ajax, which led the Eredivisie on goal difference when play stopped in March, would not be crowned champion.
Eredivisie club FC Utrecht also said it was planning legal action as it was deprived of a place in next season’s Europa League by the KNVB decision.
Utrecht, finished the curtailed season sixth, three points behind fifth-placed Willem II, which occupied the last Europa League spot. However, Utrecht played one game less and had a superior goal difference. It also was a finalist in the KNVB’s cup competition.