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Ligue 1 to Be Called Off as French Government Prevents Return From Happening

Ligue 1 appears to be going the way of the Dutch Eredivisie, after French government determined that no matches–not even ones played behind closed doors–can take place before Sept. 1, effectively ending the season. 

French prime minister Edouard Philippe announced as much as part of a bigger-picture speech to the National Assembly regarding the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, bringing the season to a screeching, premature halt. The league has yet to make an official comment.

The development impacts Ligue 1 and second-tier Ligue 2 clubs, who had hoped to return to training in a few weeks in anticipation of resuming matches in empty stadiums in June. It's unclear what it means for places in European competition, promotion and relegation and league champions. PSG was running away with the top-flight title again, leading second-place Marseille by 12 points and with a game in hand. Things are considerably more tense in Ligue 2, where the top five teams are separated by four points.

At the bottom of the Ligue 1 table, Toulouse was all but certain to go down, with just 13 points on the season and trailing 18th-place Nimes–in the relegation playoff spot–by 14 points. Amiens currently occupies the other automatic relegation spot. Toulouse's president welcomed the decision.

“Soccer emerges as the winner,” Olivier Sadran told L’Équipe. “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.”

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Should Ligue 1 follow the Eredivisie's lead completely, then there would be no championship awarded this season, promotion and relegation would be frozen and European places would be determined based on the current state of the table. That would be a tough pill to swallow for Lille, which sits in fourth place, one point behind Reims for a spot in the Champions League qualifying rounds. Instead, it would be sent to the Europa League. All of that is reportedly set to be determined at a Ligue de Football Professionnel meeting next month, though.

Another wrinkle is what happens to French teams involved in European competition. Just because Ligue 1 is shutting down, doesn't mean those clubs are prohibited from taking part in the Champions League, which–for now, anyway–still intends to be finished. PSG is one of the four teams to have sealed a quarterfinal berth before matches were suspended, while Lyon holds a 1-0 aggregate lead over Juventus after their last-16 first leg. If the competition resumes, it certainly doesn't look viable for PSG or Lyon to host any of the home legs going forward. PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said that the club would continue to play in the Champions League, staging "home" matches abroad where it is safe to play if it comes to that. UEFA's intention is to complete the Champions League by playing the final on Aug. 29 in Istanbul.

France's decision was not fully embraced by the president of the Spanish federation, with Javier Tebas, whose league still has a choice to make despite opposition to returning anytime soon from the country's health minister, critical of the call that was made.

“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,” Tebas 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.”