The English Premier League (EPL) has been given permission to resume its 2019/20 season from the first day of June. UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden has announced that the government is ‘opening the door’ for top-level soccer to return in the country.
Players are set to return to training next week as clubs begin to plan for the resumption of matches that will be played behind closed doors. Safety measures will be implemented to ensure social distancing rules are adhered to as effectively as possible and regular testing will be completed on staff and players alike.
“We all agreed that we will only go ahead if it is safe to do so and the health and welfare of players, coaches and staff comes first,” Oliver Dowden said, after meeting with top soccer authorities on Thursday.
“The government is opening the door for competitive football to return safely in June. This should include widening access for fans to view live coverage and ensure finances from the game’s resumption supports the wider football family,” Dowden continued.
“It is now up to the football authorities to agree and finalize the detail of their plans, and there is combined goodwill to achieve this for their fans, the football community and the nation as a whole.
“The government and our medical experts will continue to offer guidance and support to the game ahead of any final decision which would put these plans into action.”
Although some have argued that, because the UK’s coronavirus numbers are so high, a June start is too soon, the government are keen to facilitate the quick resumption of top-level sport in the country, mainly to ease the financial burden of the pandemic.
Clubs in the English Premier League alone generate over £3 billion in tax revenue per season and the government also realizes the importance of improving the nation’s mood and mental health.
“The overall approach has been tentative, measured, slow, and that is exactly the plan that is underway for all of elite sport, not just football,” UK Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam said at the meeting, suggesting that there should not yet be a firm date set for the return of the EPL.
“Small, carefully measured approaches to seeing what can be achieved safely. We will have to see how that goes before it is time to move on, or even think about moving on, to the return of competitive football matches. We have to be slow, we have to be measured.”
At the meeting, the English Football Association and the UK government were made aware of Covid-19’s huge financial impact and the enormous strain being placed on clubs during these times, particularly those in the lower leagues.
In April, English Premier Clubs banded together to advance £125 million of funds for the lower tiers of English football, including some semi-professional leagues. However, most EPL sides are struggling themselves, and EPL chief executive Richard Masters told members of the government that clubs across the league are losing revenue at an ‘unprecedented level’.
Masters went on to warn those at the meeting that the heavy losses had to be ‘dealt with’, or clubs and other businesses that depend on soccer for income will not last much longer. According to Masters, the competition is set to face losses in excess of £1 billion if the season is not eventually brought to conclusion.
“We are in uncharted territory. It’s a hugely complex situation,” EPL side Brighton & Hove Albion’s head coach Graham Potter said, after the third player at the club tested positive for Covid-19 last week.
“It’s very difficult to call one day to the next. The general will from all the clubs is to play out the season as close to the format as possible. Whatever date that is remains to be seen. We are sanitizing the environment. The players are not coming in for any length of time,” Potter continued.
“It will be as safe as it is made to be. The challenge will be when [we have] contact, larger groups and different teams. We need to see where we are on Monday and then Tuesday. There are concerns, of course. We have come out of lockdown. The situation is not totally resolved,” the Brighton manager added.
“I have a young family. My wife’s family has health issues. We are human beings.”
Elsewhere in the English Premier League, Tottenham star striker Harry Kane has partnered with lower league side Leyton Orient to show support for key workers during the pandemic. England captain Kane went on loan to Orient as a youngster and has now bought all the sponsorship space on Orient’s kits for next season.
Leyton Orient’s home strip will show a message of thanks to frontline workers who helped tackle coronavirus in the country, while the two alternative kits will show logos of mental health charity Mind, as well as Haven House Children’s hospice.
The club have announced that 10% of the proceeds from every shirt sold will go to the cause that is featured on the front.