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Voiding the 19/20 season could have dire consequences

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The Premier League trophy. Photo: REUTERS

The Premier League trophy. Photo: REUTERS

Action Images via Reuters

The Premier League trophy. Photo: REUTERS

As Premier League officials pored over documents when the coronavirus crisis first began to spread, a simple but stark reality became apparent: there was absolutely no provision for a situation like this.

It was never considered that football could just… stop.

That vacuum has started up intense discussion about what can be done next, with all manner of solutions encouraged, but one of the more drastic suggestions has picked up momentum in the last few days.

That is to void the season.

It was an idea that two clubs intimated support for on the night the Premier League was finally postponed on March 12, with West Ham United's Karren Brady then revealing her backing in a newspaper column that Saturday.

The backlash to that saw the proposal temporarily shelved but the ongoing uncertainty has seen some figures come back to it. At least four clubs now favour it with Harry Kane then adding his backing on Sunday.

Expunged

But does that mean voiding the season is even possible? What are the technicalities and merits to the idea? What would it entail, and what would it mean?

Well, it would mean exactly what the word does: voided. The 2019-'20 season would be expunged. "It won't have happened," according to one figure centrally involved in discussions.

All of the results and records of that period would meanwhile be wiped, and it's a wonder whether Kane would feel the same if he was told all of his goals wouldn't count.

Most pressingly, though, the broadcasters would have legal and contractual rights to demand money back.

This is the source of the very real concerns that the Premier League clubs would collectively lose up to £1.2bn (€1.35bn) if the season is voided. This is why the majority of the clubs are determined - some sources would say "desperate" - to complete the campaign.

All of the current top-half teams are in that camp, even if some of their supporters are not. That in itself touches on the deeper complexity of this problem.

For all the fixation on Liverpool "getting their title", the real debate is lower down the table. There lies the greatest argument against voiding the season because of the multitude of complications it would cause.

The regulations dictate that the Premier League cannot unilaterally void a season without the agreement of the Football Association and the English Football League. For the same reasons, the top division can't just decide to re-align relegation so it's one up, one down rather than three up, three down.

And the EFL's position is unequivocal: they are determined to finish the season, no matter when that may be. That is down to motivations much greater than any of the Premier League's reasons. It centres around the very survival of tranches of clubs. There are estimates that up to 45 clubs could go out of business.

As such, the EFL's position won't be changing, and that effectively locks the Premier League in. It is there where the real potential for legal challenges arise. Multiple sources say that promotion-chasing clubs would have a legitimate argument that they will have suffered extraordinary loss if the Premier League does attempt to void the season. The expectation is they would be "very aggressive".

Many who are against voiding the season have, meanwhile, raised the understandable issue of sporting integrity, but that goes even bigger. There's the consequential issue of public trust in the competition.

If a league is voided, and the game effectively says certain games don't matter, it means no result can ever be relied upon. The contract with supporters will have been broken.

Rushing it, of course, is the greater problem in all this. Many key figures are uncomfortable with the nature of this debate at a time when so many people are dying and the curve remains steep.

Uefa's mature decision to relax their own position on seasons ending only fortifies this view. There isn't the same pressure.

It's just the wait can't go on indefinitely, either. If sporting integrity is obviously a fair rationale for refusing to void the season, it similarly applies to any extended gap in play. If that extends past six months, can it really be fairly considered the same season? Would the teams even be the same?

This is when some feel the situation could change, and the momentum goes back behind the idea. It's why it is still a live possibility, even if a remote one.