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Belgian league agrees to declare season finished due to coronavirus pandemic

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Paris (AFP)

The Belgian football league has recommended that the current season be declared finished early due to the coronavirus pandemic with the present table accepted as final, it said on Thursday, becoming the first European league to take such a measure.

The decision is set to be formally validated at a General Assembly on April 15, meaning that Club Brugge would be declared champions as they currently sit 15 points clear of Gent at the top of the table.

In a statement, the league said it was "very unlikely" to be able to hold matches in front of crowds before June 30 and that it had "unanimously decided that it was not desirable...to continue the competition" after that date.

Matches behind closed doors were "theoretically possible", but the league said it preferred not to put more pressure on health services and police in the circumstances. It therefore agreed not to restart the season and "accept the current league table as final".

Belgium would become the first European league to take such a measure due to the ongoing health crisis, which saw football across the continent grind to a complete halt in the middle of March.

The number of deaths attributed to coronavirus in Belgium passed the 1,000 mark on Thursday, health officials said, with 15,348 officially recorded cases.

The country has imposed a similar national lockdown to those in its European neighbours, with restaurants, bars and non-essential firms shut, school suspended and public events banned. Per capita Belgium is among the worst hit countries in Europe.

The Belgian season stopped with one round of games remaining in the 30-match regular season.

After that the league usually splits up, with the top six having their points totals halved and going on to play each other home and away to decide the title winners.

The move is seemingly out of line with European football's governing body UEFA, who have stated a determination to press on and finish this season's domestic and club competitions by June 30, but could opt to continue into July and August if necessary.

One of the main concerns for clubs everywhere is that many players' contracts expire on June 30, and it is not yet clear if it will be possible to extend those if the season is not completed by that date.

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