Emmanuel Macron’s announcements on Wednesday foreshadowed it. The French Football Federation endorsed it this Thursday morning: due to the worrying health situation in the country, the men’s and women’s amateur competitions are suspended until 1is December. From this weekend, all the matches of “All the competitions of leagues, districts, national championships of National 3, National 2, women’s D2, French men’s and women’s Cups, and national youth championships (women’s and men’s)” are postponed sine die, indicates the FFF in a press release. The professional championships, they can continue. Same sanction for rugby.
Inexhaustible defender of football from below for ten years, as president of the French Amateur Football Association, and elected since last June as sports assistant for the city of Tours, Eric Thomas considers these updates. stop logics. In a reflection that sometimes goes beyond the purely football framework, he pleads for an almost total break from all sports competitions, while criticizing the government’s lack of consideration for sport today.
The government announces that it will maintain professional sport, sport in schools and in clubs for minors. At the same time, the FFF is suspending the amateur football championships. Do these measures seem coherent to you?
We are subjected to paradoxical injunctions, both from the government and the FFF. We can see that it is a particular confinement, where we want to respond to all the problems, at the risk of missing the main target which is health. To say that pro sport must continue is a very partial view of sports. The only pro sport that can continue is football, because it is the only one that has TV rights that should allow it to get by, provided that we have guarantees from Mediapro. The other sports which will not be able to make revenue during the matches (ticket office, refreshments…), you condemn them if you force them to continue their championship. Ditto for clubs, you kill them if they have to prosecute without an audience. In the world of sport, you have to be in the lace. Football is a sport apart. You have to treat sports in a very special way.
In what state is the world of amateur football before this second shutdown?
He’s in terrible shape. Sport and culture are going through very stressful times. Nothing is done, no listening is implemented to come to the aid of amateur clubs. When the Rugby Federation triggers aid of 124 euros per licensee in favor of its 19 00 amateur clubs and releases 35 million from the end of March (to cope with the crisis), the FFF, extremely wealthy, puts only 10 euros per licensee to come to the aid of its 15,000 clubs and waits three months before putting only 20 million on the table. She is totally overwhelmed by events. For years, it has given pride of place to professional clubs and the French team to the detriment of amateur sport.
So far, how had the return to the clubs gone?
It was very heterogeneous. Some clubs manage to maintain the same number of licensees, others have lost 20% to 25% of players. The district of Savoie, for example, lost 22% of its licensees (as of October 15). In total, we should be on a loss of between 10 and 15%. It is still a disarray, especially since there is an absence of response from our local authorities, which have not been “local” for a long time.
What would be the consequences of a second confinement?
It’s hard to say. Clear, simple instructions would have been needed, and demonstrate pedagogy, because the roadmap is anything but clear.
Was there prior consultation with the FFF, upstream of the announcements?
Never. The FFF decides all alone in its corner. Look at the end of the championships last year (the FFF decided to stop the 2019-2020 fiscal year in mid-April without notifying the amateur world). We had expressed well in advance the wish that there would be no relegation to the lower divisions, so as not to add unhappiness to unhappiness. The Federation did just the opposite, without any listening, consultation, dialogue with anyone.
How to manage these postponements in the calendar of the season, already very busy?
We know that the championships end at the end of May. We can possibly organize competitions until the end of June. But it all depends on the length of the interruption. We won’t resume until the start of 2021, at best. I know clubs that are extremely careful, that do tests every week, and all of a sudden end up with cases of covid. For example, the Tours Volley Ball had so far been spared. Suddenly, he ends up with seven cases. All of this is likely to last.
Given the global situation, what should be put in place to get amateur sport, and sport itself, out of this impasse?
Many things. The first: create an emergency solidarity fund for French sport and consider sport a priority. However, we were treated to a Minister of Sports who declared the opposite. When you’re Minister of Sports, you don’t have the right to speak that word. Sport must be considered as an essential priority, with a view to the 2024 Olympic Games and the 2023 Rugby World Cup. However, for the moment, sport is only a permanent adjustment variable.
We must also implement a real democracy in French sport. Even recently, I can cite the case of the president of the Center-Val de Loire football league, totally incompetent, and in addition irresponsible because he forced National 3 teams to play in competition when there was of proven Covid cases. Except that he was not elected, but appointed. It is that whole system that no longer works. It is a system of the XIXe century which allows some to keep power to the detriment of amateur clubs. This is what I have denounced for ten years.