Opinion: Why Lyon should be punished for failing to fulfil their Champions League tie against PSG

Lyon

UEFA has today accepted Lyon’s request to postpone their Champions League quarter final second leg against PSG after a number of their squad returned positive coronavirus tests.

The match was scheduled to be played tomorrow, but the teams will now have until April 20th to complete the tie.

Lyon, who won the first leg 1-0, said they had made both UEFA and PSG aware of their “very critical situation,” with four players understood to have caught the virus.

While it’s too early to assume any wrongdoing from the defending European champions, it’s impossible to dismiss the feeling that Lyon have been lightly treated and seemingly incites the narrative that teams needn’t worry about outbreaks within their ranks.

Because, though there is no proof of rule-breaking or rule-bending, the apparent ease by which a high-profile game can be so easily moved sets a dangerous precedent for clubs’ actions in the future.

In an era where a global pandemic is causing widespread chaos across the world, football teams should be implored to follow uncompromising guidelines, under the assumption that, whether fair or not, the game will not accommodate them.

Football in general has taken an increasingly more lax approach to regulations than other sports. Consider cricket, tennis and rugby –– all athletes and staff have been forced to operate in “bio-secure bubbles”, knowing that the slightest breach would result in unwavering consequences. On the other hand, football has tended to be less rigorous, more relaxed and offered almost boundless freedom to competitors.

Take the “Dubai gate” scandal in the Women’s Super League earlier this year as a case in point. Both Manchester City and Arsenal had games rescheduled after players returned from holidays abroad and proceeded to test positive. The FA concluded that, while their actions could be considered immoral, players hadn’t technically broken the law.

Lyon

That they didn’t technically break government guidelines isn’t the main issue here. Players should have to go above and beyond normal convention to ensure that they are responsible.

Arsenal and City’s games were both rescheduled as if there were no problem. Both teams won these rearranged fixtures 4-0 against Aston Villa and West Ham respectively. Both teams are now sitting pretty near the top of the league, while the two teams who were forced to comply with the schedule changes continue to battle relegation.

With the exact rules concerning COVID guidelines still clouded to an extent, there’s an ever-growing sense of hypocrisy that’s continuing to develop. Lyon’s opponent for this tie, PSG, actually forfeited their round of 16, second leg fixture against Sparta Prague a couple of weeks ago because of their own COVID outbreak.

If UEFA were satisfied in that case that there were enough grounds for a side to forfeit, then why are the same rules not being applied? It should make no difference that fortunate scheduling allows a period for the second leg to be played another time.

If PSG were not a fellow French team and had existing commitments elsewhere, would the game still be rescheduled? Somehow, you get the sense that the answer would still be yes.

Lyon

Should Lyon have been forced to forfeit their match? Potentially. This would set the greatest examples for teams to be more stringent in their approach to COVID safety. However, this punishment would be to the detriment of fans, who want to watch two of the worlds best go head-to-head.

One team that has achieved interminable greatness and another who is striving to end their dominance. Fans and neutrals alike needn’t be robbed of the opportunity to watch such a pulsating fixture.

Equally, the cancellation of the game entirely could be disastrous in the context of television deals. Those broadcasters that were due to show the game would be owed a rebate and knowing that a similar situation may arise in the future, they could be tempted to distance themselves from women’s football coverage. For these reasons, a financial reprimand seems more suitable in this context.

Ultimately, there must be some sort of punishment imposed on Lyon to highlight that there is no option to be complacent, no option to bend the rules and certainly no option for football to fit in with teams’ demands. In an era like no other, for once football must consider the bigger picture above football itself.

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