Another major domino in the soccer world has fallen amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the Dutch Eredivisie announcing its season has been canceled.
The development came to be expected after the Netherlands government ruled this week that no sporting events could take place in the country until September 1 at the earliest. What wasn't certain was how the Eredivisie would handle its pressing matters: crowning a champion, determining which clubs qualify for European competition and relegation.
The short answer: The title will be vacant, there will be no relegation and European places will be doled out based on how the table was situated after all but four of the 18 clubs had played 26 matches (the outliers played 25).
The news is sure to come as a disappointment to Ajax and AZ Alkmaar, who were tied for first place on points (Ajax held the edge on goal difference).
“As players and club, you want to become champion on the pitch," Ajax CEO Edwin Van Der Sar told the club's website. "We’ve been at the top of the league all year so it’s a shame we haven’t been crowned champions, but given the current situation it’s understandable."
On the other end of the spectrum, it's a boon for ADO Den Haag and RKC Waalwijk, who were in the automatic relegation places by a margin of seven and 11 points, respectively. Their places in the top flight have been preserved. The news isn't as rosy for second-tier clubs like Cambuur and De Graafschap, who were in the automatic promotion places but won't be able to join the top flight despite their stronghold atop the Eerste Divisie.
“It feels like the biggest scandal ever in Dutch sport,” Cambuur coach Henk de Jong told NOS.
Ajax and AZ will go into the Champions League qualifying rounds, while Feyenoord, PSV, Willem II, Utrecht and Vitesse are in position for the Europa League.
It's unclear how UEFA will welcome this news. On Thursday, UEFA indicated that it wanted its European competition places determined based on "sporting merit" and that any leagues forced to cancel their seasons exhaust all options, including a potential playoff format. It also cautioned it could deny teams places in the Champions League and Europa League if “there is a public perception of unfairness" for how they qualified.
UEFA did leave the door open for a situation where playing in any capacity isn't a possibility, saying, “If a domestic competition is prematurely terminated for legitimate reasons ... the procedure for selecting clubs should be based on objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles.”
The Eredivisie follows Belgium's top flight and Scotland's lower tiers as leagues to pull the plug, while Scotland's Premier League is expected to follow suit in the aftermath of UEFA's most recent ruling. Unlike the Eredivisie, Belgium's Pro League does plan to crown a champion, with first-place Club Brugge to be awarded the trophy. A ruling is expected on Monday.