Executives from the 20 clubs held a conference call a day after Britain's lockdown was extended by the government for another three weeks to May 7. The aspiration of the league is restarting after a three-month absence on June 8, presenting an optimistically tight timeframe for players to regain match fitness if social distancing is relaxed.
Clubs in the three professional leagues below the Premier League have been told by the English Football League that May 16 is the earliest training sessions are recommended to start. Premier League teams have up to nine games remaining, including Liverpool, which has a 25-point lead in its quest to end a 30-year title drought.
There is a hope the new season can start in Europe's main leagues in September, with UEFA exploring staging the finale to the 2019-20 campaign — the Champions League final — on Aug. 29. But any planning depends on how long governments maintain forms of lockdown before there is a COVID-19 vaccine.
There is no expectation by the English leagues that any fans will be allowed into stadiums when games can be played again as efforts continue to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The league’s planning includes an awareness that it could be possible to play only when there is a sufficient availability of COVID-19 testing for those allowed into stadiums, and medical services can be in place at games that are not being relied on by the health authorities to deal with the pandemic.
It is part of what the league calls “complex planning scenarios” being drawn up around timeframes to eventually be allowed to play with “full support” from the government. “The health and wellbeing of players, coaches, managers, club staff and supporters are our priority and the league will only restart when medical guidance allows,” the Premier League said in a statement. “Today’s shareholders’ meeting (of the 20 clubs) provided an opportunity to discuss possible scheduling models. It remains our objective to complete the 2019-20 season but at this stage all dates are tentative while the impact of COVID-19 develops.”
The last Premier League game was on March 9 before the competition was suspended after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi were infected with COVID-19. Hudson-Odoi's teammate, Willian, has highlighted how even playing in closed stadiums presents a health risk for players.
“If we restart playing without fans but there’s contact on the pitch ... maybe we can spread the virus between us,” Willian said in a video interview from São Paulo on Thursday. “I play against someone and I get the virus then I go home after the game to stay with my family and pass the virus to my wife or daughters. So we have to be careful about that.”
Extending the season far beyond its expected end-point in mid-May has additional complications for players like Willian whose contracts expire on June 30. FIFA has asked for players and clubs to extend contracts until the seasons are eventually concluded, while UEFA has worked on plans for leagues to resume around Europe by July and August.
The English Football League announced plans on Friday to ensure all remaining games are available to view on television or be streamed. "The point at which you will be able to attend games again remains unclear," EFL chairman Rick Parry said in an open letter to fans of the 71 clubs. “The contribution to football’s finances made by match-going supporters should not be underestimated. It is critical to the business model of league football.
"Perhaps the biggest challenge right now is not knowing when we will be able to reintroduce football in front of crowds. We can only hope that the situation develops in such a way that we will be able to do that with the shortest possible break.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
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