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Interview with Jean-Michel Aulas

Published on 08 May 2020 at 4:10 PM
Interview Jean-Michel Aulas
Olympique Lyonnais opposes the LFP's early stoppage of the season, which could also seriously penalize French football. Jean-Michel Aulas speaks here on different themes and gives his vision of the impact of this decision and its potentially serious consequences for French and European football, the situation in France, and the general interest of French football.

The pandemic hitting the world

Some have dared to say that we are only fighting for money. I was deeply shocked by these words. Through the OL Foundation, we were the first club in France to act and we managed to collect via a crowdfunding platform more than 500,000 euros to help our community and make donations to researchers, doctors, patients, the homeless ... Recently, cooperating on an initiative with the Rhône department, Olympique Lyonnais was able to give 70 digital tablets to 49 different facilities in the department, in order to allow the  beneficiaries to be able to communicate with their families and those close to them, via video calls. We have been addressed as begging for money; it is deeply unfair. OL has a permanent regard for all doctors, for all researchers, for hospital staff and also for all those who are working with the OL Foundation, which was the first to deliver donations.

 

"Only Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Gibraltar and France have decided to stop their seasons."

 

The return of football in Germany with other European countries to follow

The day before yesterday (Editor's note: Wednesday May 6), the Bundesliga took a certain number of decisions towards restarting which were confirmed by Mrs Merkel. I had a meeting with the ECA. There were fifty-one European countries present or represented. Only Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Gibraltar and France have decided to stop their seasons. Some countries have had situations as difficult as in France and sometimes more exacerbated than things have been here. However, they are finding solutions. European competitions, with two French clubs still in the running, are to be resumed in the month of August. Not only is the decision made in France a disaster for the French football economy but, beyond that, there is a feeling of injustice for PSG and OL. We will have to face clubs who have been playing matches and training when we have not been able to do so.

Women's competitions are also continuing. We are going to play against Bayern (in the Champions League), who continue to train. We are the only European club to qualify in all UEFA competitions (LDC, WLDC, YL). We would like to continue the competition with the same advantages as our competitors that we will face. UEFA has given a number of instructions: do not rush and play seasons, on merit, to their end.

On the decision to stop football in France

It is necessary to start from the genesis of this affair and in particular the declarations of Edouard Philippe but also those of the Minister of Sports who defined things very well. She said: "On the scenario proposed by the LFP, there was a deadline which was that of August 3, the date imposed by UEFA. " After verification and confirmation by UEFA and the ECA, it was confirmed that there had not been a date imposed by UEFA for completion of the league seasons. Today, a number of leagues imagine ending in August and maybe even early September. From there it would have been possible, not to start on May 14 or June 2, but to wait. We had to wait for health protocols that suited the Minister of Health, to see how the Germans managed to return to individual and then collective training, then to observe, using a protocol that is extremely precise and protective for athletes and staff alke.

If we had studied the health protocol developed by the Germans and the one being worked on by the ECA, probably the decision to stop would not have been taken immediately. We would have waited as the other countries did and then, according to the European contacts of the sports ministers, we would probably have found a solution which would have been different from the one which has been too hastily defined by the LFP on April 30.

It was also necessary to secure all of the revenue from French football, which was no longer the case from the time when there was a decision made by Canal + to stop the season quite imperatively so as not to having to pay the 300 million that remained due, along with the other operators, to French football. Those who did not want to pay drove the decision to stop. Those who had to decide relied on the broadcasters' decision to stop broadcasting to make a decision that was far too premature.

 

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"French football is not certain to recover from this premature stoppage. There was nothing worth making a decision to stop."

 

On the suggestion of play-offs

I had imagined this being an option, but we did not deign to look at this proposal, when we could, in perfect agreement with UEFA, find on sporting merit a solution which, perhaps, did not involve the eleven league matchdays but which would have made it possible to restart at the beginning of August, as Edouard Philippe said. President Le Graet says that in August we will be able to compete in the cup finals.

 

On the consequences of the cessation of professional football in France

It is true that few clubs had realized what was going to happen, that is to say a total economic disaster. French football is not certain to recover from this premature stoppage. Nothing deserved a decision to stop. I estimate that there will be between 700 and 900 million lost. The French government has granted a PGE of 235 million euros to the League. It’s great, like the fact that the state has granted partial unemployment for athletes. The state should be thanked for these arrangements. But it is a loan and will have to be repaid. I don't know if all of the clubs will be able to recover.

 

On a recovery scenario sooner if health conditions allow

Why can't we go back? If UEFA calls the Federation and the League to look at exactly what has been said, namely that the date of August 3,  which has never been an obligation for the LFP ... UEFA has indicated that it will be called upon to take decisions for countries which would have taken initiatives differently from what it would have liked. I am not here to make decisions, I am here to challenge decisions that are made too hastily and that make French football difficult.

 

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The classification method used

This is a 38-day league with, as the LFP regulations say, 19 matches home and away. At the end of the 28th matchday, we decide that we will make a certain number of calculations with a final table based on mathematical formulas and arabesques. OL were then 7th in the championship. We should have done better. But just because we could have done better and should have done better does not mean that we should lose the chance of being able to do better.

A competition cannot be parsed by mathematical formulas in the event of interruption. Sport is all about glorious uncertainty. We have to let things happen in law as well as in spirit. When we look at the classification method used: Nice played 32 matches this year (OL: 44), played 15 times at home in the league (OL: 13 times) and had yet to play Paris Marseille and Lille again. Nice end up 5th when it was 6th after the 28th matchday.

The French State, to come to the aid of the League and the Federation on the choices made, has just presented a proposal for the adjustment of the law which will be discussed in the Assembly. This validates the decisions of the League and the Federation. If a law is put in place to legitimize what has been decided, it is not in relation to the spirit of fair play. I am interested in knowing how the deputies and senators will answer to that.

 

"What always surprises me is that I am criticized for having probably been penalized by decisions but we do not wonder why they were made and who benefits from them?"

 

The actions brought by OL

"We hesitated a lot. We did not receive the minutes from the Bureau de la Ligue and the CA of April 30 until this evening (Editor's note: May 6). This morning, the CA of OL made the decision, as OL is listed on the stock market My shareholders could turn against me: 'Why don't you defend our general interest vis-a-vis the premature end of the season and then the questionable method of classification'?

The first recourse is to the Administrative Court in Paris, to hope that one can consider resuming the league in the very short term. The Ministry’s decision is based on a mandatory date of August 3, one that does not exist at UEFA. I think that we can examine in detail, including in cooperation with the services of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, the health protocols being adopted in European countries which is currently being validated by UEFA to see if it there is a possibility of resumption.

The second appeal concerns the terms of stopping the season. If we cannot resume, we must see if the decisions taken were legitimate. Money is not the main concern. For more than thirty years, with girls as with boys, we have gone from the lowest to the highest level by taking decisions, in sporting and economic terms, different from those which are being asked today; the question of continuing play tomorrow. "

 

On the general interest of French football

It's not a matter of millions (Editor's note: for OL). First of all, there are a number of decisions to be taken in the general interest of French football. Then, it would be a question of looking in detail if a certain number of clubs may have been disadvantaged but also if certain clubs could be given an advantage. What always surprises me is that I am criticized for having probably been penalized by decisions but should we not wonder why they were made and who benefits from them?