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UEFA confirms 'sporting merit' will decide qualifiers for next season's Champions League

By Vincent Ashitey
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UEFA has stated that qualification for its club competitions next season must be done on "sporting merit", while reaffirming its belief that the 2019-20 season should be played to a complete finish where possible.

The football season has been postponed across the majority of Europe due to the coronavirus outbreak, with the Champions League and Europa League on hold and all major domestic leagues being suspended, or in some cases, abandoned.

The Belgian Pro League was the first to be called off early, while Scottish lower league clubs recently voted to end their seasons and the Dutch Eredivisie is set to be abandoned after all football in the country was banned until September 1.

The UEFA executive committee met in a video conference on Thursday to discuss how the league seasons could be ended, and also how qualification for the 2020-21 Champions League and Europa League could be decided.

READ ALSO: Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid: Mayor calls for inquiry into Champions League fixture amid coronavirus concerns

A UEFA statement read: "As a result of representations made by the football authorities in Belgium and Scotland, the committee recognises the issues raised and approved the guidelines on eligibility principles for 2020-21 UEFA club competitions. The guidelines reflect the principle that admission to UEFA club competitions is always based on sporting merit.

"Therefore, UEFA urges national associations and leagues to explore all possible options to play all top domestic competitions giving access to UEFA club competitions to their natural conclusion. However, UEFA stresses that the health of players, spectators and all those involved in football as well as the public at large must remain the primary concern at this time.

"The ideal scenario, should the pandemic situation permit it, is to have the currently suspended domestic competitions completed enabling football clubs to qualify for UEFA club competitions on sporting merit in their original format.

"Should this outcome not be possible, in particular due to calendar issues, it would be preferable that suspended domestic competitions would restart with a different format in a manner which would still facilitate clubs to qualify on sporting merit."

This increases the possibility of leagues resuming behind closed doors, with the German Bundesliga announcing on Thursday that it is ready to resume play on May 9, pending government approval.

However other European nations, including England, Italy and Spain, have been harder hit by coronavirus, meaning even playing to empty stadia may be impossible - in which case UEFA has said participants in next season's continental competitions should be chosen based on their form this season, rather than reputation or riches.

READ ALSO: Bundesliga ready to return on May 9 - if German government approves

Its statement continued: "If a domestic competition is prematurely terminated, UEFA would require the national association concerned to select clubs for the UEFA club competitions 2020-21 based on sporting merit in the 2019-20 domestic competitions.

"The procedure for selecting clubs should be based on objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles. National associations and leagues should otherwise have the ability to decide the final positions in their domestic competitions, having regard to the specific circumstances of each competition."

UEFA also said it reserves the right to refuse admission to any club for next year's continental competition if it feels they have been chosen unfairly, including if "there is a public perception of unfairness in the qualification of the club."

Among the other discussions at Thursday's meeting, UEFA said it is still discussing how to complete this year's Champions League and Europa League, which were both halted part way through their round-of-16 stages.

It said it is considering whether to run the cups alongside leagues as it usually does, or wait until domestic competitions are done and play out the continental matches in August.