PREMIER League football could be back on TV within weeks — in a major boost for bored Brits.
Boris Johnson has been briefed on plans for matches to be played behind closed doors and sees the resumption of live sport as key to boosting the morale of the nation after weeks of being shut inside.
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Other football leagues, tennis, cricket and horse racing could also resume under detailed proposals to be thrashed out between ministers, Public Health England officials and sporting bodies.
The priority is to get the Premier League season finished as it would allow the transfer window to open and enable money to trickle down the football pyramid.
It is understood that some games could be aired on public platforms to stop people going round to pals’ homes if they were only available on Sky Sports or BT Sport.
Government insiders said it was likely that the EFL would start later because of the logistical and financial challenges.
Sport is considered one of the first activities that can return after the coronavirus lockdown as it is simple to control compared to reopening pubs, theatres or cinemas.
But first the Government would have to meet its five restart tests — including cutting death and infection rates.
And sports would have to meet a strict set of criteria, including being able to maintain social-distancing and keeping all involved safe from infection.
There would have to be regular testing of participants — paid for by clubs or the sport’s chiefs so as not to block frontline workers.
The Government’s next review of the lockdown is due a week on Thursday, on May 7.
FIVE CRITERIA ALL SPORTS WILL HAVE TO MEET
RULES will be tailored to different sports — but they will all have to meet these broad criteria:
- EACH sport would have to put in place regular testing arrangements for participants. These would have to be paid for by sporting authorities or clubs to avoid depriving key frontline workers of the vital tests they need to be able to continue working.
- STAFF must be kept safe from the risk of infection and any extra burden on the emergency services must be prevented.
- CLUBS would also have to ensure they have measures in place to deal with certain fan behaviour, such as the risk of impromptu gatherings outside grounds.
- THIS is on the back of supporters from Paris club PSG turning up at their stadium to celebrate their Champions League victory when their match against Borussia Dortmund last month was played behind closed doors.
- BEFORE any sports can resume, the Government must first have met the five key tests it has set the country before any restrictions could begin to be lifted.
A Whitehall source said: “We want live sport back on TV as soon as we can. It would give the whole country a huge lift.
"We have much still to do in the fight against the spread of this virus and it is too early to consider fans going back to the grounds themselves but this is a way to at least get sport going again.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has urged the Premier League to consider streaming matches on terrestrial channels.
Another option being considered is extended highlights. Clubs could also show games on their websites.
Tennis, cricket and snooker could return earlier than football because officials believe they could maintain social distancing more easily at those events.
If the Government gave all sport the green light on May 7 it would take at least two weeks of training for Premier League players to be match ready.
The priority is to finish its season and open the transfer window so money can then trickle down the football pyramid.
There will be weekly meetings between medical officials from major sports bodies and Public Health England, led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The meetings will work on detailed proposals and essential public health checks.
The issue will be on the table when ministers review the current set of social distancing measures ahead of the next review on May 7.
Officials have already begun drawing up plans with sports bodies for sport to resume, as soon as advice from health officials indicates that it can proceed safely.
Once the UK has passed the five tests for easing the lockdown, ministers will set out the specific criteria for a return of football and other sports behind closed doors.
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Mr Dowden told MPs earlier this week: “I think the financial reality for most clubs is their biggest source of income is the direct transfers they get from the Premier League.
“So if we got that running in some way behind closed doors then that would relieve the pressure on all other clubs.”
Football authorities are monitoring Germany where clubs returned to training last week and a provisional resumption of games has been set for May 9.
Government sources said that while all professional sports would be able to resume if they met the criteria, many would choose not to because of logistical challenges.
Players, staff and officials in Germany are facing strict hygiene measures before they enter stadia.
They will have to confirm they have no Covid-19 symptoms in the previous 14 days, and detail any tests they have taken.
Dressing rooms will have to be equipped with hygienic facilities and be disinfected.
Five questions on how football might return
WHAT happens to the remaining rounds of the Champions League? Countries across Europe have different approaches on lifting rules.
WHAT happens to the remaining three rounds of the FA Cup? The FA faces a major challenge in fitting the quarters, semis and final in alongside the very tight schedule of Premier League games.
WILL all games be televised? The resumption of the Premier League is likely to trigger frantic negotiations between subscription TV channels such as Sky Sports and BT Sport and free-to-view channels, as well as questions over how to fit the remaining games into broadcasters’ TV schedules.
WOULD players be forced to play and also wear masks? It is unclear if football authorities have the power to force them to play, with the threat of legal challenges if players catch the virus. Players are very unlikely to wear masks but they would probably be asked to wear them when travelling to and from stadiums.
WOULD lower leagues resume and what about promotion/relegation? The priority is the Premier League. It is unclear what would happen if the lower leagues do not finish their seasons.
Several buses would be needed to transport players and staff.
In Germany nobody is allowed on a bus unless they are wearing a face mask.
Players might even be required to wait until they are back home before they shower.
The Sun Says
THE return of live TV sport may not seem the top priority in the context of this huge national effort to prevent Covid-19 killing thousands more of us.
But how much less grim the last month would have been if the nation still had footie to focus on.
So it’s hugely welcome that the Government hopes soon to get sport back up and running — albeit behind closed doors and subject to a battery of tests to keep players, officials and staff safe.
It will be weird without a soul there cheering them on. A bit like a normal county championship cricket match. But it will be far better than nothing . . . and almost certainly free to view too.
It might even allow the top leagues to finish their season, as well as keeping us all a bit saner as this crisis drags on.
Bring it on.
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