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When COVID-19 necessitated the suspension of the Premier League, Liverpool F.C. stood 25 points clear atop the table.
When COVID-19 necessitated the suspension of the Premier League, Liverpool F.C. stood 25 points clear atop the table. Even if its closest competition, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City F.C., went undefeated for the rest of the season, two wins from nine remaining games would have crowned Liverpool Premier League champions for the first time since 1990. Subsequently, many former and active players, including rival Chelsea F.C. defender Antonio Rudiger, have called for Liverpool to be awarded the title, assuming the current season’s discontinuation. Those in Rudiger’s camp argue that Liverpool’s eventual victory would have been inevitable, but opponents worry that awarding the title could open a can of worms regarding European placement and relegation, both of which have substantial fiscal repercussions, which are potentially as severe as determining a club’s death or survival. However, analyzing the French Ligue 1’s decision regarding its 2020 champions reveals that awarding the title results in little added financial mishap. Moreover, soccer leagues do not utilize a playoff system so awarding a champion based on current results still fairly reflects the general method used to place teams. Therefore, the Premier League leadership should cut its losses, name Liverpool the winner, and begin planning the next season.
After French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe barred all sporting events until September 2020, Paris Saint-Germain F.C. was declared Ligue 1’s victors with 11 games left unplayed. At the time, they held a 12 point lead on second place Olympique de Marseille. European placement was also decided based on the incomplete table, and the bottom two teams, Amiens SC and Toulouse FC, were relegated, replaced by the top two second-tier teams. As predicted, lawsuits emerged. Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) vowed to appeal the decision, claiming “several tens of millions of euros” in damages after missing European qualification by eight points. Amiens and Toulouse each suggested they would take legal action as well. Despite Lyon’s strong threat, French Minister of Sports Roxana Maracineanu seemed unconcerned about the lawsuits: “If they want to go to court, let them go…The sports movement is autonomous…This is valid for professional and amateur sport[s] alike.” Maracineanu’s public lack of concern suggests Lyon’s appeal, and therefore Toulouse’s and Amiens’s as well, is unlikely to be successful, and Lyon’s lack of support from other Ligue 1 teams corroborates that.
Accordingly, lawsuits shouldn’t be a major deterrent for the Premier League, especially since the alternative—not finalizing the table or naming a champion—might also produce lawsuits. Promotion and European qualification provide significant income for clubs; England’s best second-tier clubs might appeal if not promoted, and the same goes for English teams currently set to qualify for Europe. Lawsuits and subsequent financial fear should not stop England’s Football Association from granting Liverpool the title they earned.
Further, unlike the U.S.’s major sports leagues which use a playoff to determine a champion, not the regular season results, the current Premier League table accurately reflects the performance of each team. The Premier League shirks playoffs, instead using a point system that determines the champion after 38 games, weighing each game equally. Thus, the current table, reporting this season’s substantive 29 game sample size, can serve as a fair measurement of each team’s ability and be used to fairly name a champion, determine promotion, and assign European qualification since the Premier League table always reflects each team’s position in comparison to all other teams.
Liverpool was far ahead of its peers when the season shut down; its 25 point lead was effectively insurmountable. Recognizing its standing, the Union of European Football Associations President Aleksander Ceferin, whose organization determines which clubs qualify for the Europe-wide tournaments, asserted that Liverpool should win the title “one way or another…in an empty stadium or…the green table [for negotiations]” since a “champion should be determined.” Given the need to name European qualifiers, the lack of serious financial deterrent in choosing a champion, and Liverpool’s enormous lead, the Premier League should skip the suspense and present the award. Even if the final 11 games are canceled, Liverpool earned it.