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International

English Soccer Fears No Fans at Stadiums “any Time soon”

Supporters are not likely to be allowed back into matches "any time soon," the head of English soccer has warned, with cost-cutting underway across the game to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

All sport, including the Premier League, was shut down in Britain in March as part of efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Group training for teams has yet to resume due to strict social distancing regulations during the national lockdown.

The English Football Association, which owns Wembley Stadium and runs the national teams, is cutting its annual budget by 75 million pounds ($93 million) as it tries to offset a potential "worst-case scenario" deficit of 300 million pounds over the next four years.

"The reality is that we just don't know how things are going to pan out, but with social distancing in place for some time to come we do face substantial changes to the whole football ecosystem," FA chairman Greg Clarke wrote to members of the governing body's council. "For example it's hard to foresee crowds of fans — who are the lifeblood of the game — returning to matches any time soon."

The English Football League, which operates the three professional divisions below the Premier League, has told clubs games might be played without fans until 2021. 

The Premier League is trying to find a way of restarting next month, with Liverpool 25 points clear with nine games remaining. The league has told clubs that games could not take place at their own stadium to stop fans from gathering outside, but the plan has faced opposition from Brighton and West Ham.

For Clarke, the focus is on completing the FA Cup, which is at the quarterfinal stage, and the resumption of key events at Wembley to generate revenue for the FA.

"A huge amount of work is taking place to assess whether a restart to the English season will be possible," Clarke said. "Whilst we would all like to see football return in the coming weeks, the health of our communities and the protection of the NHS (National Health Service) must remain our priority and we will continue to be led by government advice as we work together with stakeholders from across the game to assess any potential restart."

The early termination of the French season on government orders last week has sparked recriminations. 

Amiens is asking the league to review its decision to relegate the club from the topflight, launching a petition on Monday to "demand justice for this far-reaching decision which goes against fairness in sport."

Amiens was next-from-last in the 20-team Ligue 1 with 10 games left and was four points behind 18th-place Nimes. The bottom two teams are automatically relegated and Amiens said the "fairest choice" would be to expand Ligue 1 and make it a 22-team division for the 2020-21 season. 

The northern French club is asking "supporters from Amiens and lovers of football" to support its initiative, which "would make football and sport grow."

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