Spain’s 2nd tier may be decided by the courts after outbreak

MADRID (AP) — After a small outbreak of coronavirus cases threw Spain’s second division into chaos, the courts could end up deciding who gets promoted or relegated.

Deportivo La Coruña was demoted to the third division on Monday even though it couldn’t play its final-round match against Fuenlabrada because some Fuenlabrada players tested positive for COVID-19 just hours beforehand.

Deportivo, the 2000 Spanish league champion and a two-time Copa del Rey winner, is threatening legal action to try to stay in the second tier.

“It was a mistake,” Deportivo president Fernando Vidal said of their demotion. “It was a complete adulteration of the competition because in the last two rounds every significant match has to be played at the same time. What happened was very serious. We will do whatever is needed. I don’t consider the club has been relegated.”

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Deportivo – and other clubs – wanted all matches to be postponed but the Spanish league, along with the Spanish soccer federation and the nation’s sports council, suspended only the match affected by the outbreak. They said it was “the solution that best protected the health of players and the overall integrity of the competition.”

Spanish league president Javier Tebas said on Tuesday that suspending the entire round would have jeopardized the league even more as it would be harder to keep players from all teams fit and protected from the risk of infection.

He said the final round would not be repeated, and dismissed the possibility of adding clubs to the second division next season so Deportivo could avoid demotion.

“There was no adulteration of the competition,” Tebas told Spanish TV. “The decision was actually made to defend the interests of Deportivo.”

Among the clubs also considering legal action were Elche, Rayo Vallecano and Numancia.

Elche temporarily grabbed the final spot for the promotion playoffs on Monday, but it will lose it if Fuenlabrada earns at least a draw in a rescheduled match against Deportivo, which will have only pride to play for.

Elche said in a statement the decision to postpone only Fuenlabrada-Deportivo “directly affected the integrity of the competition and was not fair.”

Rayo Vallecano also was fighting for a playoff spot and depended in part on Fuenlabrada’s result. Club president Raúl Martín Presa said the entire final round should be annulled.

Numancia played its match under protest, saying the fairness of the competition was not maintained.

Deportivo players released a statement on Tuesday saying they told a Spanish league official they shouldn’t be playing if all matches were not canceled.

“Everything that happened after the announcement that only our game was suspended has no validity determining the outcome of a competition that must always be decided on equal terms,” the statement said.

Deportivo coach Fernando Vázquez said his team’s rivals benefited because they didn’t have to deal with the pressure of Deportivo’s result. Vázquez said it was strange the other matches were allowed to be played considering that Fuenlabrada hosted Elche just a few days ago and maybe players were already infected by then.

The announcement of the positive cases at Fuenlabrada, based just south of Madrid, came just hours before the final round. Tebas said six players and two members of the club’s technical staff tested positive. The team said no one who tested positive showed symptoms of the disease. The league president said an investigation would be conducted to see if Fuenlabrada properly followed the heath safety protocols.

Spain was one of the hardest-hit countries by the coronavirus. The pandemic had been under control until some surges of new cases reported recently.

“We had been warning the clubs because of the situation in the country,” Tebas said, adding that the league deliberately scheduled all games in the shortest amount of time possible to have some extra cushion in case something went wrong.

“We reserved almost three weeks to try to recover if something like this happened,” Tebas added.

Vázquez said it was “a little alarming” to see an outbreak within the second division after “we were all congratulating ourselves on how well we were doing as a society.”

“It’s a warning,” he said.

There was no date set for the new game between Deportivo and Fuenlabrada. The promotion playoffs, which were expected to begin on Thursday, also have been delayed.

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