Ligue 2 clubs want to keep promotion but suspend relegation
With the French season declared over because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ligue 2 promotion and relegation are at the heart of a debate which is being duplicated in other countries.
The second-division clubs facing the drop or just missing out on promotion complain they are being treated unfairly.
Support is growing to scrap relegation and expand to 22 teams next season, while still holding the summer playoff which gives finishers between third and fifth a second chance to win promotion.
Their problem is that Noel Le Graet, the head of the French Football Federation, is opposed to the idea, insisting on the "application of the regulations."
If the clubs cannot persuade him, Orleans, in last place with 10 rounds unplayed, and Le Mans, tied on points with Niort but in 19th on goal difference, will go down.
The battle will be fought out in committee rooms and at the general assembly of the French professional league.
"I will defend the move to 22, so there will be no automatic drop," Pierre Ferracci, president of Paris FC, in 17th, the last place that guarantees safety, when the season was halted, told AFP, adding that many other clubs shared his position.
"Exceptional circumstances allow exceptions to be made," he said.
Le Mans has settled for more cautious statements saying it "believes that the decision to stop the championship is the wisest for everyone's health and hopes for a fair and united verdict".
The club's fans have launched a petition.
- 'Plenty of time' -
"In these difficult times, let's stick together and not make two clubs and their supporters pay the price for an unfinished season," wrote one of its organisers.
At the top of the table, leaders Lorient and second-placed Lens have been promoted, but only four points separated first from in fifth and the clubs in the playoff places, Ajaccio, Troyes and Clermont are frustrated.
"Why stop a team that was one point out of second place from taking part in playoffs," asked Ajaccio president Christian Leca at the end of April.
"We're not asking to play them tomorrow, we could play four playoff matches on 15 July."
"We've got plenty of time to re-evaluate the health situation."
He also proposed enlarging Ligue 1 with a formula that would solve Ajaccio's problem.
"We could also do one relegation, three promotions, and a Ligue 1 with 22 clubs," he told AFP.
Adding two teams to a division would reduce each club's cut of league broadcast and sponsorship income but would increase their revenue by adding four matches. But that would add to fixture congestion in what is likely to be a particularly crowded calendar.
The dissatisfaction is mirrored lower down the French football pyramid.
Boulogne-sur-Mer, third in 'National', the third division, are claiming the regulations mean they should face Niort for a place in Ligue 2.
"We can hold a play-off without difficulty at the same period as the French Cup, that is to say one month before the resumption of the championship, at the end of July or early August," club president Reinold Delattre told AFP. "This would be fair and exciting and could give people pleasure."
© 2020 AFP