How soon could Premier League football return?
Government is holding talks with bosses to restart matches in early June
Premier League football could return in early June after two ministers signalled government approval for the move.
Speaking on Sunday, Dominic Raab, the first secretary of state, said professional sport might be granted special dispensation to resume even while social distancing measures are in place.
Then, yesterday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, said that he backed a swift return.
He told parliament: “I personally have been in talks with the Premier League with a view to getting football up and running as soon as possible in order to support the whole football community. But, of course, any such moves would have to be consistent with public health guidance.”
With Premier League bosses keen to complete the season and preserve their broadcast revenues, it is thought that top-flight football could resume in England on 8 June.
Official talks between a cross-sport working group - including club medical staff - and government officials over what would be required to restart matches are part of a scheme known as “Project Restart”. Pressure to restart games is huge after it was reported that British sport faces bankruptcy the longer the lockdown lasts.
The Guardian says any medical and safety plans will have to be signed off by Public Health England and the government. Matches would be held behind closed doors at “approved” and potentially neutral stadiums.
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Meanwhile, clubs are starting to take tentative steps back to normality. Yesterday, Arsenal, West Ham and Brighton reopened their facilities for socially distant training and Tottenham will do the same today.
However, reports the Daily Telegraph, there are a number of stumbling blocks for the return of matches, including the issue of testing. It says the “availability and accuracy of coronavirus tests” which would be required for the plan is “currently the biggest uncertainty”.
There is also the question of whether players want to return to action soon. Jeremy Wilson writes that “there is a feeling among some players that their willingness to rush back is being taken for granted”.
The Independent raises a moral dimension, pointing out that holding matches “would require removing ambulances and paramedics from the frontline, and diverting test kits from those who urgently need them”.
It is predicted that all remaining Premier League fixtures could be televised or streamed. Ministers are keen for at least some to be made available free-to-air to avoid people breaking social distancing rules by gathering to watch at a friend’s home.
Before any matches are held in the UK, Germany could lead the way.The Bundesliga is presenting a plan to the government that could see them matches return as early as 9 May.
Meanwhile, The Times reports that there are calls for a permanent rule change in the light of the coronavirus. Players should be given yellow cards if they spit during matches when football resumes because they risk spreading viruses, a Fifa council member argued yesterday.