Premier League return may be delayed a week to June 19th over player concerns

Protocols for a safe return to play and concerns over the need for more training are aired at meeting

Player concerns over protocols for a safe return to play and the need for more training were aired at a meeting on Wednesday. Photograph:  Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Player concerns over protocols for a safe return to play and the need for more training were aired at a meeting on Wednesday. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

 

The English Premier League is facing the possibility of having to delay its Project Restart after a pair of crucial meetings with players and managers provoked a series of robust exchanges and diverging views.

A planned resumption of play on June 12th is now looking less likely, even if the hurdles between the League and a return to play can be cleared. A kick-off of a week later is now a possibility after issues over protocols for a safe return to play and concerns over the need for more training came to the fore.

Players had not previously had a chance to share their views on restart plans and a two-hour meeting between 20 club captains, League officials and the UK’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan van Tam saw several choose to get concerns off their chest.

Players aired worries over safety, which the League hope to address with their return to play protocol. Others were concerned that giving their consent to abide by the protocol might leave them legally exposed should they contract Covid-19, but those fears are believed to have subsequently been allayed.

In the managers’ group there was a focus on getting ready for the restart but again the protocols were central. The current return to play arrangements do not address a safe way to engage in contact training, and without that players cannot get fully match fit. Some managers are believed also to have asked questions about what should be done in the event of a player testing positive with the coronavirus, with the League still to agree upon a position over whether the entire squad should isolate as a result.

Despite the number of opinions and, sometimes, their strength, the back to training protocol looks set to be finalised . The UK government, which issued its own guidance on Wednesday for what it called ‘stage 1’ training for elite athletes and was in line with much of what the Premier League has decided, is expected to give its assent this week. The protocols will then be presented to the clubs for final approval at a shareholders’ meeting next Monday.

That meeting falls on the day group training was due to restart under Project Restart’s Plan A. The first round of Covid-19 testing for players will then need to take place. Results could take two days to return in some cases, which would push training back towards the end of the week. With managers believing that players need four weeks to get match fit, rather than the three previously allocated, a June 19th start date becomes more logical.

The protocol is far from the only issue the League will have to address, however, even to hit a delayed start date. Firstly there is the issue of contact training, with a second stage of protocols yet to be devised. Again these rules would have to be approved by government who look set to address the issue in their ‘stage 2’ guidance for sports. According to the new official information, however, Stage 2 “will be finalised and communicated once the government has agreed to move to this step”. There is currently no timeline for when that decision will be taken.

After that there will be the problem of where and how to play matches. While the issue of neutral venues is now being reconsidered, it is far from agreed. Police have entered into negotiations with the League, but are understood to feel that neutral venues are still a live possibility, as is the curtailment of the season.

The Premier League were given some relief however with the news that all these details need not be resolved before the end of the month. The European governing body Uefa had previously insisted that its member leagues come to a conclusion as to how to finish the season by May 25th. That advice has now been relaxed however.

“Uefa would like as much as possible to receive such information by 25 May”, they said in a statement, “but we understand that detailed plans might not be fully available by then due to a variety of external constraints. Uefa would nevertheless expect to at least receive some indications as to the potential way forward envisaged by national associations and leagues by that date.” – Guardian

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