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28 Apr, 2020 19:16

'It's a matter of life and death': FIFA medical chief urges NO football until SEPTEMBER in 'worst situation since World War II'

'It's a matter of life and death': FIFA medical chief urges NO football until SEPTEMBER in 'worst situation since World War II'

Michel D'Hooghe has told fans and governing bodies to forget restarting competitive football before a vaccine for Covid-19 is found, warning that the "most dramatic situation" since the last world war is "not a matter of money."

FIFA Medical Committee chairman D'Hooghe has panned plans to resume top-level action across Europe over the next few months, declaring that only a vaccine for the novel coronavirus would enable leagues to continue.

His words are certain to have an influence when leaders in Germany meet on Thursday with a view to rubberstamping the return of the Bundesliga, which was due to become the first top-level league to restart, having set a likely date of May 9.

"The world is not ready for competitive football," D'Hooghe told Sky Sports, speaking within hours of French president Edouard Philippe making a surprise announcement that professional football would not take place in his country until at least September, ending the 2019-20 season in Ligue 1 and 2 immediately.

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"This is the most dramatic situation we have lived in since the Second World War. We should not underestimate it – we must be realistic.

"We do not know when it will reach its peak in different countries. It will be different in every country. The solution will only be there the day there is an adequate vaccination programme."

Singling out mooted plans in England, where speculation has suggested that training could start again on May 18 ahead of fixtures from June 8, D'Hooghe said that testing would not protect players, echoing the feeling among fans that the required social distancing would make games impossible.

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"Testing is an important point but you have to repeat them," he pointed out. "If one of the players becomes positive, you have to put the whole group into quarantine. Is that a solution for a normal competition?

"It's still about social distancing. Football can only be possible if contact is possible again. Football remains a contact sport and one of the first things everyone says is that you should avoid contact.

"Have you ever tried playing football in a mask? This does not avoid social distancing.

"You cannot play in the Premier League when players are obliged to remain two meters from each other.

"You cannot ask Liverpool to play Manchester when all the players will [have to] keep a distance of two meters between them."

The elite football seasons in Belgium and the Netherlands have already been canceled but Premier League clubs Arsenal, Brighton and West Ham reopened their training grounds for individual sessions this week and Italy's Serie A has begun to take tentative steps towards a possible return next month.

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Bundesliga executives have said that clubs could face bankruptcy should the season not resume imminently and the Premier League depends heavily on broadcasting contracts being fulfilled, while doctors in Spain have outlined stringent testing and safety measures that could be implemented in La Liga and across the suspended leagues, including sterilizing balls and pitches and minimizing contact off the pitch.

D'Hooghe appeared to dash their hopes of successfully ending their respective seasons behind closed doors, imploring supporters and clubs to show less haste.

"Football has to be patient," he demanded. "It has to listen to the national authorities and respect the basic [health] rules.

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"Just because balls might be sterilized, it does not suddenly mean we can play football again."

La Liga president Javier Tebas questioned the decision to end the season prematurely in France and emphatically contradicted D’Hooghe’s views.

“In other countries, teams are already training – that’s the example to follow,” he argued.

“We continue to focus on this reactivation, in a responsible manner and adhering to health recommendations, as soon as possible.

“If important economic sectors cannot restart in a safe and controlled manner, they could end up disappearing. That could happen to professional football.

“I do not understand why there would be more danger in playing football behind closed doors, with all precautionary measures, than working on an assembly line or being on a fishing boat on the high seas.

“In Spain, football is an important economic driver that we need to reactivate, like many others."

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All of Europe's major leagues have been halted for more than a month while the deadly pandemic has wiped out much of the sporting schedule across the world.

The major international tournament of the summer, Euro 2020, has been postponed until next year, but FIFA pledged $150 million to each of its member football associations to help with the crisis at the end of last week. UEFA will also release a collective $255 million to aid organizations in Europe.