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Government approve Project Restart in June, disagreement on neutral venues, players out of contract measures sorted

The Premier League has been given the go ahead by the Government for Project Restart to happen but not until the 1 June. Earlier on Monday, a 60-page roadmap was published by the Government in which various protocols were outlined including the return of professional sport. It would seem that sport will be broadcast behind closed doors.

In phase two of the plan, which cannot start until next month, states that ‘cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed-doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact.’ Premier League club held a video meeting on Monday to discuss options and to see the Government approve Project Restart is the first hurdle completed.

“Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to reopen safely at this point, or may be able to open safely only in part.

“Nevertheless the Government will wish to open as many businesses and public places as the data and information at the time allows.

“In order to facilitate the fastest possible reopening of these types of higher-risk businesses and public places, the Government will carefully phase and pilot reopenings to test their ability to adopt the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines.

“The Government will also monitor carefully the effects of reopening other similar establishments elsewhere in the world, as this happens.

“The Government will establish a series of task forces to work closely with stakeholders in these sectors to develop ways in which they can make these businesses and public places COVID-19 Secure.”

The Government had warned that Premier League matches will be played behind closed doors for significant period of time, along with all top level sport in the country. This is not the best thing for sport fans but it is something that needs to happen until certain risks have been removed with the coronavirus pandemic still raging all over the world.

It is stated that supporters in football grounds and other sporting venues may not be something that we see again until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus strain COVID-19. Medical chiefs have previously detailed how a vaccine would normally take years, if not decades, to develop. It would seem that there is no end game in sight yet, which is worrying.

The Government could also implement a 14-day quarantine period for arrivals to the UK, except those from countries on a short-list of exemptions. This could be problematic for the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League at club level, international friendlies and other matches at country level.

In Monday’s meeting between the Premier League and all 20 clubs playing in the league, it was revealed that all of the clubs seem to be against playing in neutral venues and the league will lobby the Government this week to try and get them to change their position, which may not be the case. It does not look good for Project Restart now.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters revealed the above to the media after the meeting earlier on Monday and it was suggested that the Government may allow clubs to use their own stadiums for home matches but ‘will have to be persuaded on security and safety issues with talks planned both on Tuesday and Thursday’.

The neutral venues issues was said to be the main sticking point in discussions between the 20 Premier League clubs and with 92 matches still to be played this season, it will be problematic to find a way which works for all clubs and the Government. Safety is the main issue, as long as that can be guaranteed, to an extent, it might be fine. Masters said:

“Just to reiterate that, I think everybody would prefer to play home and away if at all possible. And I think it’s clear to see that some clubs feel more strongly about that than others.

“Obviously from the authorities’ perspective, some authorities think that playing those matches at approved stadia, not the home venues, is the safest way forward. 

“It’s also about ensuring the fans…..about creating as little risk as possible in relation to fans coming to attend the matches outside a behind closed doors environment.

“We have spoken to our clubs today about this topic. I have said it’s a live topic and we will continue to discuss it. It’s not a matter of convincing, because we need to listen to each other.

“I think some of our clubs would argue that in relation to policing their own fans that they have a good relationship with them, and that they encourage their own fans not to turn up outside their home venues while they’re playing behind closed doors.”

Premier League clubs spoke for hours on Monday after Project Restart and there is a chance that the season could be over without a ball being kicked since the coronavirus pandemic suspended world football. There is a suggestion that the league could curtail the season, which could become costly for every club with up to £762 million in broadcast revenue from the TV contracts needing to be repaid.

The Government has given approval for Project Restart to happen next month and Premier League clubs are understood to be keen on resuming the season but curtailment of the season is a real threat, especially in the fact that neutral venues seem to be rejected, which was suggested by the Government. During the meeting, Masters said:

“It was the first time we discussed curtailment – it’s still our aim to finish the season obviously but it’s important to discuss all the options with our clubs.

“I’m happy to reveal it was discussed for the first time but the contents of that discussion have to remain confidential. What I can say is that all of the talk was about finishing the season. No conclusions were reached on any other models. 

“The discussions about curtailment are contingency planning. All the discussions were about concluding the season but it prudent to have a look at what might happen in alternative scenarios. These were confidential.

“We are in constant dialogue with our broadcasting partners and have an excellent relationship with them. We understand they are also suffering from the economic impact of Covid and are cognisant of that. In regards to the specific question I just can’t answer that.

“Those are future conversations we may need to have. There was a desire to see all the different implications; the adaptions, if you like, to the Premier League model as we know in order to play out the season and then discuss what the fairest way forward is.”

Masters said that there was still momentum to play the remaining 92 fixtures of the season but with clubs having rows and disagreements over playing in neutral venues, there is a chance that it could not happen. Perhaps the club need to look at the financial implications of what is happening and look to find common ground. We are in very different times than we were at the start of the year.

If the season does resume, of which we will find out next week, there is likely to be problems with players contracts ending at what was meant to be the end of the season. It would seem that Premier League clubs have pushed through what will be a major change to the transfer system. All club voted to create a mini transfer window for out of contract players.

This is expected to happen before the 23 June and club would be able to temporarily extend the contracts of players with the deadline coming a week or so before players would in fact be free agents. This suggests that there are indications that the remainder of the season will be replayed as all this would not be necessary if the season was curtailed. Masters said:

“What we decided today – obviously this issue has been highlighted and we’ve discussed it at the last two meetings – but we’ve been working as far as possible to ensure that clubs complete the season with the same squad they had prior to the suspension.

“What was agreed today is that players can extend their contracts beyond June 30 until the end of the season but it must be agreed by both parties and a later date can be scheduled for that; no later than June 23.”

Of course, there could still be some problems as players who signed pre-contract agreements with foreign clubs, which they were able to do from the 1 January, agents fear that they may not sign renewals with their clubs, meaning they will not be available with the season set to go into July or later. I guess we will see what is decided soon.

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