Celtic poised for 9-in-a-row

Hearts edge closer to the abyss after UEFA ruling

Worry: Ann Budge (pic: SNS Group)

Hearts’ relegation moved a step closer after UEFA opened the door for the SPFL to bring an end to the Scottish Premiership season as it stands.

Criteria laid down detailing reasons for ending leagues included “insurmountable economic problems” or a ban on sports events.

Thursday’s Covid-19 update from the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested “big gatherings and events” are off for “some months to come”.

Should UEFA confirm Scotland meets the criteria, the SPFL looks certain to draw a line under the campaign, which would see Celtic crowned champions for the ninth time in a row and the Jambos consigned to the drop.

The recent controversial passing of a resolution granting such powers to the league’s governing body allows them to do so, although they will seek consultation with all clubs beforehand.

Celtic sit 13 points clear of nearest rivals Rangers, while Hearts are four adrift of Hamilton Accies at the bottom. The prospect of dropping into the Championship is a real worry for big-spending Tynecastle owner Ann Budge, who says relegation could cost the club up to £3m.

UEFA wants to see member associations use their “best efforts” and explore all possible options, including a different format, to complete domestic competitions before the Champions League and Europa League resume, potentially in August.

According to European football’s governing body, there are certain circumstances in which it would be acceptable to end a season early.

They include the “existence of an official order prohibiting sports events so that the domestic competitions cannot be completed before a date that would make it possible to complete the current season in good time before the next season to start”

Additionally, associations can call time if there are “insurmountable economic problems which make finishing the season impossible because it would put at risk the long-term financial stability of the domestic competition and/or clubs.”

In the event of the season ending early, UEFA also said that the SPFL could decide on European qualification based on sporting merit and “on objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles”.

Budge and Hamilton vice-chairman Les Gray are chairing a working party to look into league construction for next season, although relationships among the 15-strong group appear to be strained with any agreement some way off.

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