England Will Return to the Soccer Field. Scotland Won’t.


England and Scotland have a long rivalry on and off sports fields. But ultimately, they are both part of Britain and the United Kingdom. So it may come as a surprise to see how differently they are approaching the return of soccer.

England has been doing everything it can to restart its season. Players will return to training in small groups on Tuesday. No date for games is yet set, but organizers are eager to begin as soon as feasibly possible.

But Scotland announced Monday that its season would not continue. Celtic F.C., which was leading the Premiership by 13 points with eight games remaining, was declared the champion for the ninth straight year.

With such a big lead, Celtic was very likely to win even during a completed season. But the situation at the bottom of the league was more fluid. When play stopped, Hearts was in last place, the sole relegation spot, but trailed Hamilton by only 4 points, a margin that would have been very possible to close. Now they will be relegated without another ball being kicked.

One reason for the discrepancy between England and Scotland’s plans is money. England has a huge TV deal — worth more than a billion dollars per year, domestically alone. If England failed to finish its season, it would have to give back a portion of the money, and even a portion is still a ton of cash.

Scotland’s TV deal is much smaller, less than $20 million domestically, according to reports. But Scotland is getting a better deal next season, and no one wants to jeopardize that income. So calling it a season and moving on to a more lucrative future seemed to be the soundest move.

Some teams in the Scottish leagues are not happy with the decision. Unsurprisingly, most teams’ opinions depend heavily on how they finished in the partially completed season.

Celtic reacted Tuesday with a blizzard of retweets of congratulatory messages for winning the title.

Hearts’ reaction was very different. “We have stated from the outset that we don’t believe it is right that any club should be unfairly penalized because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the team said in a statement. “As previously intimated, the club has been taking legal advice throughout this process and are continuing to do so.”

The other two nations in the U.K., Wales and Northern Ireland, with leagues even smaller than Scotland’s, have not yet made decisions on whether to try to resume their seasons.

For decades, the Preakness Stakes has been run exactly two weeks after the Kentucky Derby in May. Because of the coronavirus, that tradition has changed. The Preakness was rescheduled to Oct. 3, nearly one month after the Derby on Sept. 5.

There has been a push for more time between the Triple Crown races for years, as it happens. Top horses ran sometimes as often as once a week in the 1930s and ’40s. But in recent times, the best horses will almost always wait at least a month between races. That has caused some trainers to complain that the two-week gap between the Derby and Preakness is an anachronism that makes winning both more difficult.

The Belmont Stakes, which is run three weeks after the Preakness in normal times, has not yet been rescheduled. If it sticks to the usual gap, it would be held on Oct. 24. But that seems to be too close to the big season-ending event, the Breeders’ Cup, still planned as scheduled on Nov. 6 and 7 at Keeneland in Kentucky.

The Triple Crown races will already be significantly different because they’re being run in the fall, as the 3-year-olds will be bigger and stronger than they would have been in the spring.

When German soccer returned this weekend, there were strict rules in place: no spectators, copious Covid-19 testing and only solo celebrations.

Most teams seemed to scrupulously follow the rules, which ran 50 pages long. But one German team, Hertha Berlin, went ahead and celebrated its 3-0 win over Hoffenheim conventionally, in defiance of social distancing rules. There were group hugs, and one player, Dedryck Boyata, even kissed his teammate Marko Grujic on the cheek.

“We are passionate footballers, not robots,” said Vedad Ibisevic, who scored in the game.

No yellow or red cards were distributed for that passion, and there will be no ex post facto punishment, the league said.





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