• Reuters, AFP-Jiji, Kyodo

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Club Brugge have been declared Belgian champions after the remainder of the country’s professional league season was canceled on Thursday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Brugge had a runaway 15-point lead at the top of the standings with one round of matches left to play before the start of the post-season playoffs, involving the top six clubs.

They were runner-up last season to Racing Genk, who were seventh when the league was suspended last month in the wake of the outbreak. Genk is the current home of Japan international Junya Ito.

The decision by the Pro League board – the first of its kind among European leagues – must be ratified at a meeting of the 24 clubs in the top two divisions, but 17 of them had already called for the season to be canceled last week.

In a statement, the league said it was "very unlikely" to be able to hold matches in front of crowds before June 30 and that it had "unanimously decided that it was not desirable… to continue the competition" after that date.

Matches behind closed doors were "theoretically possible," but the league said it preferred not to put more pressure on health services and police under the circumstances. It therefore agreed not to restart the season and "accept the current league table as final."

A five-man working group has been established to decide how to deal with the issue of relegation and promotion and places in next season's European club competitions.

Ghent was second in the standings and will be hopeful of being given Belgium's other Champions League place, while the country has three berths in next season’s Europa League.

Charleroi, for whom midfielder Ryota Morioka plays, was in third, while Sint-Truiden, which boasts four Japanese players, was in 12th.

The working group will also decide what to do about the Belgian Cup final between Brugge and Antwerp, which was to have been played in Brussels on March 22 but was also suspended.

Media reports on Thursday said it was hoped that the cup final, plus the second-division promotion final between Beerschot and OH Leuven, could still be played if the government allowed.

The decision to cancel the league campaign came the day after a UEFA meeting recommended that countries try to complete their seasons, even if it means playing on into August.

But clubs in Belgium, where the death toll from the coronavirus passed 1,000 on Thursday, have been pressing for more than a week for a conclusion to the campaign amid growing concern over finances.

Belgium had already previously cancelled the remainder of all amateur football for this term.

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