Hearts will watch French court case with interest

Lyon in legal bid to reverse decision to cancel the rest of the French season

Lyon's president Jean-Michel Aulas (L) and the club's general deputy director Olivier Blanc (R) chat with their lawyer as they leave a hearing concerning the judicial appeals from Lyon, Toulouse and Amiens against the way French Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons ended. Picture: Franck Fife/AFP
Lyon's president Jean-Michel Aulas (L) and the club's general deputy director Olivier Blanc (R) chat with their lawyer as they leave a hearing concerning the judicial appeals from Lyon, Toulouse and Amiens against the way French Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 seasons ended. Picture: Franck Fife/AFP

In a case that could have repercussions for other leagues in Europe, the president of Lyon has asked a court to reverse a decision to cancel the rest of the French season, saying it was “absurd” to halt the competition so early.

Hearts are currently considering legal action after they were relegated from the Scottish Premiership when the season was ended with eight rounds of fixtures remaining.

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Lyon took their case to the Council of State in a bid to force the league to play the remaining ten matches of the aborted French campaign.

Hearts owner Ann Budge is considering legal action. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

“It was absurd to call the league off [on 30 April] while other leagues reserved the right not to. Germany is already playing again, Spain will next week,” Jean-Michel Aulas, the president of Lyon, said. “It’s the league which took the decision and can take the decision to resume... I’m shocked that we’re here debating whether we can play or not.”

The Bundesliga resumed last month, while Spain’s La Liga is restarting on 12 June. The English Premier League is set to resume on 17 June, and Italy’s Serie A three days later. Scotland ended its season on 18 May and will not be resuming. Celtic were declared champions on a points won per game average, and bottom club Hearts were relegated using the same formula.

Aulas thinks it’s not too late for France to restart.

“We can train for three or four weeks and finish the league by the end of August,” he said. “Lyon is resuming training on 8 June with a health protocol which has been approved.”

Scottish top-flight clubs plans to resume training on 11 June but this is in preparation for the 2020-21 season which has a provisional start date of 1 August, subject to government approval.

Significantly for Hearts, Amiens and Toulouse were also present at the French hearing on Thursday in an attempt to overturn their relegation, although they are not arguing for a league restart but an expanded top-flight next season. Ann Budge, the Hearts owner, is trying to achieve the same in Scotland via league reconstruction. She would like to see the Premiership expanded from 12 to 14 clubs. Such a move would save Hearts from relegation but she faces a tough task to persuade enough clubs to back her plan.

In France, Judge Bertrand Dacosta will deliver his verdict on Lyon’s case on Monday or Tuesday.

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The LFP cancelled the French league two days after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe ordered all sports competitions to be called off because of the coronavirus pandemic. He specifically mentioned football in his address to parliament on 28 April.

Runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain were declared champions. Lyon finished seventh and missed out on a Europa League place while Amiens and Toulouse went down.

Amiens and Toulouse have proposed an extended 22-team league next season.

They argued that relegation was unjust because there were no statutes in place for such a scenario, and that it was an arbitrary decision considering the standings could have been different if the pandemic had led to the league shutting down earlier.

Lyon argued that the table was unfair because teams had not played the same amount of games home and away or met the same opponents. It said the league should be declared void if it can’t be resumed.

Ligue 1’s director Didier Quillot sat across from Aulas at a sometimes heated hearing and defended the LFP’s decision. “We acted with pragmatism,” he said.

Aulas argued that missing out on European competition would impact finances and weaken Lyon’s presence in the transfer market. Lyon can still qualify for the Europa League if they beat PSG in the League Cup final – which was not cancelled.

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A lawyer for Lyon said that the health situation could have improved between 30 April and late May. The league said it was only acting on government orders.

Quillot also said it was not possible to delay the start of the new season on 23 August, in part because of a new TV rights contract with broadcaster Mediapro.

Aulas argued that next season could begin in mid-September in line with Spain.

The Scottish Professional Football League also used its new TV deal, with Sky Sports, as a justification for ending the league early. The SPFL also said curtailing the season would allow it to pay out much-needed prize money to clubs struggling to cope with the lack of income caused by the suspension of matches.

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