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Premier League's Project Restart: What Is It and Is It Feasible?

Premier League's Project Restart: What Is It and Is It Feasible?

Friday, 8 May, 2020 - 05:15
The plan is to get the Premier League season finished in a six-week block from mid-June to the end of July. Photograph: John Walton/Empics Sport
London - Ed Aarons

What is Project Restart?


It’s the nickname being given to the Premier League’s attempts to resume the season that was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic on 13 March. No matches have been played since the Arsenal head coach, Mikel Arteta, tested positive for COVID-19 and on 3 April action was suspended indefinitely until further notice. Clubs and stakeholders have since held regular meetings in an attempt to find a solution and will do so again on Friday to discuss the latest plans, which are thought to involve restarting games on the weekend of 13 June – subject to government approval.


How will the Premier League’s plan work?


Premier League clubs fear becoming scapegoats if game returns too soon


The shareholders’ meeting will hear more details on a proposal that was first raised by the Premier League at its last summit, on 17 April. That would involve all 92 remaining matches being played over a six-week period at “approved stadiums” in what has been described as a “festival of football”. Some of the games would potentially be shown on terrestrial television, while a three-week pre-season has also been proposed to allow players time to prepare. Players from Arsenal, Brighton, West Ham and Tottenham have already returned to their respective training grounds, albeit observing strict social distancing guidelines.


Will it be safe?


Everything will depend on clubs being able to create a “return to play” protocol that is approved by the government and its heath advisers. That is thought to include plans for players and officials being placed in lockdown at nominated hotels for up to six weeks. Each one would then travel to the stadium along a “sterile route” from the hotel before being tested. Every venue would also have strict limits on the number of people allowed to be present; some estimate that a minimum of 300 including officials, staff and media would be required at every game.


How feasible is this plan given the scale of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK?


On Monday, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, told parliament he had been in talks with the Premier League “with a view to getting football up and running as soon as possible”. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and representatives of Public Health England are due to meet executives from Britain’s biggest sports – including the Premier League – this week to discuss how sport could resume safely, with any plans needing to be signed off by the government.


However, with estimates that it could require more than two million tests and numerous expensive logistical details to overcome to create the required safe environments, it remains to be seen whether the proposal is approved. A number of Premier League clubs are also believed to be concerned about supporters gathering outside stadiums if the season resumes and fear the sport will be blamed if breaches of physical distancing guidelines result in a rise in coronavirus cases.


What have other European leagues decided so far?


Switzerland became the latest to announce that they intend to resume matches after the Federal Council confirmed on Wednesday that football will be allowed to return behind closed doors on 8 June. The German Bundesliga could be back much sooner, with detailed plans awaiting ratification from the government for its programme to resume on 9 May (elsewhere, South Korea’s K-League is also expected to start again behind closed doors a day earlier). Spanish clubs, meanwhile, are to be allowed to return to individual training from next Monday in the first of a four-stage plan to ease the national lockdown.


By contrast, leagues or governments in some countries have already decided to end their seasons early, including in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. But while the Dutch league was cancelled without any champions being crowned and with all 18 teams remaining in the division next season, the French league’s governing body, the Ligue de Football Professionnel, will meet next month to discuss how to end the season.


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