FIFA’s top medical officer takes little satisfaction from being the man appealing for restraint from leagues that are desperate to get playing again.
The coronavirus pandemic has crippled football seasons across the globe and severe economic consequences have become inevitable.
There are concerns about clubs going bankrupt and leagues collapsing, with broadcast deals called into question and players left in limbo.
Many stars have taken pay cuts or deferred wages and the 2019-20 campaign in the Netherlands and France has already been abandoned.
Michel D’Hooghe, formerly head of the Belgian football federation and president of Club Brugge, is chair of FIFA’s medical committee and has said there should be no return to action before September.
Speaking to Stats Perform, D’Hooghe said of the French league being called off: “I cannot be happy because I am a football man, but I am also a doctor.
“And the doctor in me, seeing what he sees and with his long experience in medicine and in football for over 50 years, I advise everybody whatever is the solution, and in each country it can be different, I advise everybody to be very, very careful.
“I respect all the economic argumentations. I know them: I’ve been six years chairman of a professional league, I’ve been 14 years president of the Belgian federation, and I’ve been six years president of my club, so I know the economics around football, but there is for the moment one other priority and that is health.
“If there is a moment where health should win… this is the moment.”
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D’Hooghe added: “I am not looking for popularity. I am looking for a realistic approach.
“This is the solution for tomorrow, the care of today, and if we can manage that, if we can respect the rules imposed by the public authorities, I think we will win the fight and I hope it sincerely.”
He said it would be “a heavy responsibility” to give football the go-ahead while coronavirus continues to spread and causes thousands of deaths.
D’Hooghe also warned that behind-closed-doors football is a flawed solution to the coronavirus problem, along with any scenario involving groups mingling under present circumstances.
“In my opinion, football has always been a contact sport – the first rule in nearly all the countries coming from the public authorities is: avoid any contact,” D’Hooghe said.
“For me, it’s difficult to play a football match when you have to stay two metres from each other. This is not a football match.
“This is the first objection. The second objection is that we have to avoid group formations, people coming together.
“Of course the players come together on the field, of course they are together in the dressing room, of course they are together under the showers.
“And of course if you allow people coming to the stadium you have thousands.
“We have some experience of that – always some groups of fans come together, sometimes secretly in places where they can join each other to assist any way to the football match.”
As for when it might be sensible for leagues to re-start, D’Hooghe stressed it is too soon to say with any conviction.
“In the meantime we will try to find intermediate solutions to perhaps allow a certain form of playing football and I would be the first one to be happy with that,” he said.
“But it must be between some rules and these rules are rather strict for the moment.”
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