Football in the France and the Netherlands won’t return until September as a result of coronavirus measures and the 2019/20 season in both countries has been cancelled. But the Premier League still appears doggedly determined to resume and play out the campaign in full.
It isn’t strictly necessary to finish the season - UEFA has made that clear - yet with potentially £1bn in lost revenue at stake the Premier League is increasingly conforming to the misplaced ‘British exceptionalism’ that has characterised the country’s response to the crisis as a whole.
This is the latest on the Premier League and resuming the 2019/20 season…
Provisional Date for Project Restart
The newspaper explains that two unnamed clubs have told ‘footballing employees’ there is now a ‘loose aim’ for the first fixtures to be played on Saturday 6 June or Saturday 13 June.
It will be up to individual clubs when to resume normal training once new guidance on social distancing is given. Clubs are tipped to start a mini pre-season by the middle of May.
What Broadcasters Are Planning
Even if games do go ahead there will obviously be no fans in attendance. As for how it could therefore look and sound as a television spectacle, a separate Daily Mail report notes that Sky Sports and BT Sport could use artificial crowd noises to help keep viewers engaged.
Watching football on TV against a soundtrack of silence is weird, as we saw in European games just before all sport was halted, and in the past when closed stadiums have been used as a punishment - usually in response to racist chanting or general crowd trouble.
But broadcasters, while keen to offer an ‘authentic experience’ by leaving the sound as it is, could also offer additional options of artificial noise on a separate channel or red button menu.
The Impact of Even One Infection
In theory, the idea of playing games behind closed doors at a limited of controlled venues, involving a limited number of people (are an estimated 300-400 individuals genuinely essential?) sounds as though it might actually be feasible.
But 90min’s own Chris Deeley recently summarised, “If everything went perfectly, it could work. There's no human way it goes perfectly.”
The Daily Telegraph has now reported that even one player recording a positive COVID-19 test could derail the whole thing. Dr John Ashton, a former Public Health director, described it as 'crackers' that football could go ahead before the UK still has testing issues.
“If someone got it, you would have to isolate the team and then the other team couldn’t play,” he said, referring to isolation for 14 days after coming into contact with an infected person.
That’s obvious really and begs the question; why is it going ahead?
The Telegraph notes that it is expected players and staff would be tested twice a week, although that may throw up its own issues if there becomes a shortage of tests available for key workers and other people who actually need them far more.
Clubs Worried About Being Blamed
Ultimately, The Guardian reports there are still concerns, with the Premier League worried about being blamed if the return of football leads to a rise in coronavirus cases.
Concerns appear to focus on the possibility that fans could still gather outside closed stadiums while games are going on inside, while the report also notes potential difficulty regarding player contracts in an extended season, the capacity for testing and whether sporting integrity can fully survive in neutral venues, removing typical home advantages from one team over another.
There is also a worry that as well as gathering outside stadiums during games, major victories could prompt public gatherings of fans. The obvious example there would be Liverpool sealing a long-awaited league title, although it could just as easily apply to the relegation fight.
Cancellation or Corporate Manslaughter
What if a player catches COVID-19 because football pushed for a restart too soon and the worst should happen?
“We are really into [null and void] territory now,” former Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan warned on talkSPORT. “I don’t see how we can’t be.
“As much as I don’t want to be a doomsday merchant, we’ve got a disease that we don’t have a vaccine for. And despite the fact that everyone going to work and spreading it is an issue, everyone isn’t spitting and kicking one another or sweating over one another as footballers do.
“You cannot have a situation where a global sport of this magnitude has a player that becomes infected, which is absolute inevitability until we find a vaccine.
“If something dreadful happens, what happens to sport then? Corporate manslaughter? Is that what we’re going to be talking about next?"