European clubs fight it out in courts and (virtual) board rooms after league shutdowns

By next week, Europe's big four leagues will have all returned to action to finish their 2020-21 seasons.

Champions will be crowned, UEFA club competition spots will be awarded, and teams will be promoted and relegated.

By what happened in France, Scotland and the Netherlands, where play ended prematurely without their seasons being completed on the field?

Basically, chaos.

Who gets what places in Europe? Who gets promoted and relegated? Should play be ordered to restart, even at this late date?

These fights have gone on for months and dragged into courts and (virtual) board rooms.

France. Three clubs -- Lyon, Amiens and Toulouse -- went all the way to France's top administrative court to contest the French league's decision to accept the French government's proclamation on April 28 to end the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons. The final standings were based on the standings -- points-per game -- as of March 8, the last day of play before it was suspended.

Lyon finished in 7th place, which leaves it out of Europe for the first time since 1997 if it doesn't win the French League Cup (against Paris St. Germain on July 25 or Aug. 1) or it doesn't win the UEFA Champions League (where it leads its round-of-16 series against Juventus, 1-0, after the first leg).

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas (photo) pitched all kinds of ideas to ensure OL returned to Europe or at least got a shot. (It was tied for 7th place but only one point behind three teams ahead it.) Aulas proposed over the last three months, among other things:

-- The 2019-20 standings be declared null and void -- so European spots would be awarded based on the 2018-19 standings;
-- The 2019-20 standings be based on the average number of points a team had over the last three (or five) years;
-- The 2019-20 season resume this summer (like in many other European countries);
-- The 2019-20 season resume this fall and go until December; or
-- An abbreviated playoff system be employed in late summer to finalize the 2019-20 standings.

The conseil d'état -- the French court -- shot down all of Aulas' arguments on Tuesday.

But it gave new hope to Amiens and Toulouse -- which were 14 and four points in the relegation zone, respectively, when play was suspended -- that they will remain in Ligue 1 -- and share in the new television contract -- with record payments of a total of $1.3 billion per year from all broadcasters -- with Spanish firm Mediapro that kicks in next season.

The conseil d'état didn't order the French federation and French league to keep Amiens and Toulouse in Ligue 1, but it did say they had to "reexamine" their cases. Toulouse is in the process of being sold to RedBird Capital Partners, the latest Ligue 1 club to find American investors.

Scotland. On May 18, Celtic -- 13 points ahead of Rangers -- was declared the winner of a ninth straight Premiership title, as the Scottish Professional Football League, like the French league, used points-per-game to determine the final placings and take into account that some teams had played fewer games.

But last-place Hearts, one of the teams opposing the decision to allow the season to finish early, said it would “continue to fight against ... an unjust outcome.” More than three weeks later, no decision has been made on how to deal with Hearts' relegation position in the 12-team Premiership.

The SPFL board will meet on Wednesday to discuss a proposal by Rangers that would save Hearts. The Rangers' proposal: replace the 12-10-10-10 setup of four divisions with a 14-14-18 setup over three divisions.

At the top, Hearts would stay up and be joined by 2019-20 Championship winner Dundee United (with Americans Ian Harkes and Dillon Powers) and Championship runner-up Inverness.

In the third tier, Rangers and Celtic would field new B teams, and the Highland League champion Brora Rangers and Lowland League champion Kelty Hearts would join the Scottish league.



Netherlands. Like France's Ligue 1, the Dutch Eredivisie was shut down by government order. But unlike in Ligue 1, no champion was declared -- and no team was relegated to the second-tier Eerste Divisie or promoted from the Eerste Divisie to the Eredivisie.

Ajax was leading AZ in the standings on goal difference, and the Dutch federation (KNVB) awarded Ajax the spot in the playoff stage of qualifying for the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League season that goes to the Dutch champion and AZ the spot in the second preliminary knockout round that goes to the runner-up.

But AZ went to UEFA to overturn the decision, arguing that “goal difference is no objective differentiator,” though it's the tiebreaker the KNVB uses. AZ's position: it won both league games against Ajax, which entitles it to the better placing in UCL qualifying by two rounds.

UEFA's response: It was sending back AZ's appeal to the KNVB, which informed AZ that nothing had changed.

Earlier, the top two teams in the Eerste Divisie, Cambuur and De Graafschap, lost their appeal to a Dutch court to order the KNVB to promote them. The decision assured Den Haag and RKC of staying up next season.

In an unusual move, the Eredivisie's top four clubs -- Ajax, AZ, Feyenoord and PSV -- contributed to a solidarity fund that will include contributions from the KNVB, longtime KNVB sponsor ING, the Dutch men's national team and  UEFA, and total about $20 million to support smaller Dutch pro clubs.

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