French government calls off French rugby and soccer leagues

JEROME PUGMIRE (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press
PSG's Kylian Mbappe, right, celebrates with teammate Juan Bernat after scoring his side's fourth goal during the French League One soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Dijon, at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
PSG's Kylian Mbappe, right, celebrates with teammate Juan Bernat after scoring his side's fourth goal during the French League One soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Dijon, at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS (AP) -- The French soccer and rugby leagues will not complete their matches this season after the government called them off amid 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.

France's top two soccer divisions have 10 games remaining in their seasons. Rugby's Top 14 league had reached the semifinal stage. It had initially been forecast that soccer matches 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.

“Soccer emerges as the winner,” Olivier Sadran told sports daily L'Équipe'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.”

The French soccer league, or LFP, is expected to meet in mid-May to decide on the league standings. Leader Paris Saint-Germain 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).

PSG has reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League, while Lyon beat Italian champion Juventus 1-0 at home in the first leg of their last-16 game, but has not played the return in Turin.

It was not immediately clear how the cancellation will affect PSG and Lyon playing in Europe's elite club soccer competition.

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.”

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.

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