UEFA Gives Athletic And Real Sociedad Three Weeks To Respond To Cup Final Ultimatum
The Copa del Rey final ultimatum has been the biggest topic of conversation throughout the Basque Country for the past few days. In short, UEFA has given Athletic and Real Sociedad the choice of playing the historic derby behind closed doors by 3 August with the winner qualifying for Europe or postponing it until next fans can safely attend. However, pushing it off that long will result in the European spot being given to the team that finishes 7th in the La Liga table instead.
Ever since the final was originally postponed the two clubs have maintained the stance that it shouldn’t be played without fans. The ultimatum has since complicated things, especially for Athletic who seemingly have to choose between qualifying for Europe or prioritizing the fans.
Truth be told, the situation isn’t that simple. Playing the final this season doesn’t guarantee Europe because Athletic would still have to win the match, but postponing it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of qualification either. Furthermore, amidst the fear that postponing the final could result in it never taking place, a recent report from El Larguero claims that the two clubs have requested a guarantee from the Spanish Football Federation that the final will be played no matter how long it takes for fans to be able to attend.
It was originally reported that the clubs would be given 48 hours to give a response to the ultimatum, but that isn’t the case. According to a report from Javier Ortiz de Lazcano of El Correo, UEFA have given the clubs approximately three weeks to decide. A summit will be held by UEFA with all of the national associations on 25 May to determine European allocation next season. Athletic and Real Sociedad will have to provide an answer to the Spanish Football Federation before that meeting.
Players and fans have made their stance known. The Cup final must be postponed until fans can safely attend. In fact, many view the possible choice to play the final behind closed doors as defying the values of the club. Athletic have always taken pride in being a unique club and fans have made it clear that it’s in time like these when that has to be proven.
For weeks Athletic has been adamant that the final shouldn’t be played without fans in the stands. President Aitor Elizegi went as far to say on social media that he would prefer to lose the final with fans than win it in an empty stadium. Players such as Ibai Gómez, Iñaki Williams, and Yuri Berchiche have also come out publicly to defend the stance.
Athletic had a terrific opportunity to take a stand on Friday when the club issued a formal statement on the matter. Curiously, Ibaigane didn’t address the possibility of postponing the final and instead simply denounced UEFA’s ruling that the last European spot would be given to 7th place if the season can’t be completed.
Fans and players were frustrated by the club’s response which has been referred to as “timid”. It’s unclear why the club didn’t at least mention the possibility of postponing the final, but this is an unprecedented situation. With weeks to give an answer Athletic will likely take some time to formulate the club’s official stance.
In the end, it’s uncertain whether or not games will even be allowed to be played behind closed doors this season. There’s still a chance that the campaign won’t return and in that scenario the Spanish Football Federation, La Liga, and the Higher Sports Council had agreed that Athletic would be awarded the last European qualification spot as a Cup finalist.
UEFA’s ruling that Europe should be given to the team that finishes 7th in the league table instead has angered Athletic. In the club’s opinion, it doesn’t make sense to reward the team in 7th with eleven games left to be played over the team that has reached the Cup final and only has one game left to play, the final. To Athletic, UEFA’s decision would greatly devalue the Copa del Rey as a national competition.
Interestingly, Athletic may actually have a case against UEFA. According to a report from Iñaki Ugalde of Mundo Deportivo, there are well-founded arguments against the legality of UEFA’s ruling. Various representatives from federations across Europe are said to view the decision as striping the RFEF’s right to send a club to Europe. The report goes on to say that there are believed to be “legal loopholes” which would overturn UEFA’s ruling.
A series of meetings will take place this week to analyze the validity of UEFA’s ruling. If the season isn’t able to be completed then the Spanish Football Federation maintains that Athletic should be awarded European qualification. On the other hand, if football does return both Athletic and Real Sociedad will have to choose whether or not to postpone the Copa del Rey final.