Premier League gets UK government green light for behind closed doors return from June 1

Premier League gets UK government green light for behind closed doors return from June 1

The Premier League‘s Project Restart plan has received a significant boost after the government revealed plans for sporting events to return behind closed doors from June 1. They warned, however, that spectators will not be allowed to attend events until “significantly later”.

A 50-page strategy document has been put together to outline the plan to steadily ease lockdown measures and among other things, allow sport in the country to return, with the Premier League hopeful of restarting on June 12.

The league has not played any fixtures since March 9 due to the global coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 officially – but may have actually killed over 50,000 – in the United Kingdom.

The Premier League has 92 matches to play to conclude the campaign and the league itself, like Germany’s Bundesliga, wants to play out the season.

And the government’s ‘Plan to Rebuild’ recovery strategy states that organisations should prepare accordingly for just that.

Forthcoming measures including permission being granted for “cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors for broadcast while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact”.

The plan – dubbed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap’ – states that a return of sport must be consistent with the government’s five tests, which include a steady and consistent drop in infection rate, the death toll and a rise in testing.

That means that the league will only return if the country cuts the spread of the virus over the next three weeks.

Events will not return any earlier than June 1 subject to such conditions, but it still represents a promising move for the Premier League clubs who wish to resume action.

The league must first get its house in order, with this next week set to be crucial as to whether or not the 2019-20 campaign is finished on the pitch or in the boardroom.

Project Restart is currently being held up by several clubs opposed to the neutral grounds plan, insisting matches should still be held on a home-and-away basis to maintain sporting integrity.

Sky Sports reported on Monday morning that a majority of bottom-half clubs want the threat of relegation to be removed for the season to continue. 

Brighton, West Ham, Watford, Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich are all known to be against the proposal.

They are said to believe that it is unfair they will not be able to play their remaining home matches in familiar surroundings and instead at the ground of another top-flight club.

Those clubs have been reminded in a meeting today, however, that resuming play at neutral venues is the only feasible way to see out the season so as not to put a strain on emergency services and to best protect all players and staff, with different regions of the country having all been affected to a greater or lesser extent. 

None of the six relegation-threatened clubs have averaged more than a point on the road from their away matches so far, with West Ham’s 1.07 points per game the worst average points tally of those clubs in front of their own fans.

Brighton’s 1.29 points per home game is the best average, contrased by their 0.73 ppg away from home.

But none of those teams would be backed by their own fans even if matches were to be held at their normal home stadiums.

The government document adds that football fans may not return to stadiums for a significant period of time.

Though there is no specific timeframe mentioned, it is widely understood that top-level clubs may have to prepare to play in empty stadiums until 2021. 

It reads: “It is likely that reopening indoor public spaces and leisure facilities (such as gyms and cinemas), premises whose core purpose is social interaction (such as nightclubs), venues that attract large crowds (like sports stadia), and personal care establishments where close contact is inherent (like beauty salons) may only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections.”

The Premier League needs a majority of 14 votes for the proposals to be put into place to allow the league to return.

But the relegation-threatened clubs could wreck any vote out of their belief that because the final nine rounds of fixtures will not have been played in the same circumstances, it is compromising sporting integrity to keep relegation to the Championship in place.

The league, and the bulk of its clubs, are opposed to the idea of removing relegation because they believe the competition would lose some of its allure and lose its value to broadcasters in particular.

There is huge pressure on the Premier League to resume to avoid paying back around £760million to the likes of Sky and BT.

But the neutral grounds row will most likely be the most significant roadblock to their plans to hold their final fixtures.

Local rates of infection will be used as one way to determine which eight to 10 stadiums across the country would be used, with the likes of West Ham’s London Stadium – though the Hammers would not play their games there – and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium in contention.

On a similar note, the government gave weight to the Premier League’s plan by saying in their document: “The government may adjust restrictions in some regions before others: a greater risk in Cornwall should not lead to disproportionate restrictions in Newcastle if the risk is lower.”

No vote on the matter has been taken in the league’s latest meeting today but one may be held next week.

It is not the only issue the Premier League must resolve however, with a fear that several players at each club in the league may refuse to play for health and safety reasons – particularly the fear of contracting COVID-19 and passing it on to family members, some of whom have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable than others.

Man City’s Sergio Aguero declared earlier this month that players are “scared” about playing in the midst of a pandemic, saying: “I’m scared, but I’m with my girlfriend here and I’m not going to be in contact with other people. I’m locked in my house and the only person I could infect is my girlfriend.

“They’re saying that there are people that have it and don’t have any symptoms but still infect you. That’s why I am here at home. Maybe I have the illness and I don’t even know.”

A third unnamed Brighton player tested positive for the virus on Sunday and will self-isolate for 14 days, while the entire Dynamo Dresden squad in the Bundesliga 2 are quarantining for a fortnight after two players tested positive following a group training session.

Player contracts are another big concern, with a host of players and staff’s current deals set to run out on June 30 – when the league would still not be complete should it return as hoped on June 12.

While FIFA and the Premier League say contracts should be extended on the same terms until whenever the season ends, some legal experts and lawyers have argued that would break contract laws if the players do not agree to put pen to paper on a short-term extension.

The Premier League will hope the Bundesliga can provide a pathway towards returning – although their nation’s official death toll stands at less than 8,000 and has significantly decreased of late, a drastic difference to the UK’s.

The German league is set to return next weekend, while top-level leagues in Belgium, Holland and France have all been ended prematurely. 

Belgium and France both declared champions and kept relegations in place despite being unable to play the final fixtures, while Holland did not have title-winners or demote anyone to the second division.

Published at Mon, 11 May 2020 13:14:00 +0000