The resumption of the 2019/20 Premier League season, called ‘Project Restart’ has been given a significant boost by the Government on Tuesday after Dominic Raab, the First Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs suggested that the return of the Premier League would ‘lift the spirits of the nation’.
The plan to resume the league after it was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March has come under fire from some quarters, however, the Government seem to be positive with such a thing happening so soon. Speaking in the coronavirus daily press conference earlier on Tuesday, Raab said:
“I think it would lift the spirits of the nation. I think people would like to see us get back not just to work and get to a stage where children can safely return to school but also enjoy pastimes, sporting in particular.
“I know the Government has had constructive meetings with sports bodies to plan for athletes to resume training when it’s safe to do so.
“I can tell you the Culture Secretary (Oliver Dowden) has also been working on a plan to get sports played behind closed doors when we move to the second phase – that’s something I can tell you we are looking at.”
However, this does not mean that supporters will be able to watch matches in stadiums so soon. the Premier League’s return will see all matches played behind closed doors with supporters able to watch on television, however, that has not been confirmed as some feel matches, or at least some of them, should be free to air.
Raab then confirmed that the return of football us ‘under active consideration’ which contrasts the actions taken in France and the Netherlands, who have both cancelled professional sporting events until at least September. Ministers have repeated the need for caution but the Government clearly sees sport as a key step to get the country out of lockdown. Matt Hancock, speaking ahead of Raab’s comments, said:
“Well, I’m absolutely open to that and horse racing too. And I know that both the Premier League and racing are working on how that might be doable in a safe way.”
Premier League doctors have written to the leagues chiefs to make it known about potential safety concerns as Project Restart continues. The last game in the league was played on the 9 March and talks are currently ongoing as to which measures are necessary before the season can resume. Mark Gillett, the league’s medical advisor and Richard Garlick, the director of football have been asked to clarify concerns raised last week.
Potential safety concerns have been listed and been split into ten subject areas which medics feel have not been addressed as the coronavirus continues to take lives, which currently in the United Kingdom is up to 29,427 as of today (Tuesday 5 May 2020). Part of this questions the liability, insurance and testing for players, staff and their families.
It has been asked by the doctors that because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the changes enforced by it, who had updated the risk assessment procedure. This would seem to be a valid questions as the safety of players, staff and everyone else involved to keep the season running is very important. The doctors asked:
“If it is the club, is it reasonable to expect such significant policy development and change in such a short time?
There are also fears the some clubs are already neglecting social guidelines. The recent advice forbids any medical treatment and manual therapy from occurring at club training grounds unless it is ‘essential’. The doctors want the league to define what they mean by ‘essential’ also explaining that:
“Medical staff will have regular close player contact. We cannot expect players not to require increased hands-on assessment and treatment following a long period of rest.”
Arsenal have already resumed training with Chelsea planning to resume. The doctors also asked about the ability of the emergency services to attend training ground incidents. There is also a fear about equipment with goalkeeper gloves being identified as a potential risk with the doctors specifically saying:
“How long does the virus live on goalkeeper gloves? Do we need guidance on goalkeeper gloves related to cleaning/wiping? Should we advise goalkeepers to use medical gloves under goalkeeper gloves?”
Mental health is also an important factor for the Premier League’s return. It has been asked whether the league has given such a consideration for this. You can understand why all this is being discussed as it needs to be clear and concise in each different stage that there have been considerations and that there is a process for such a thing if needed. The doctors ended by saying:
“Have the Premier League considered the stress that will be put on (them) and support for this? Medical staff are likely to be one of the highest risk groups for COVID-19 as they will have multiple regular close contacts. Who is looking after their mental health?”
Medics were invited to send their points anonymously to the Premier League Doctors Group (PLDG) before they were gathered together and forwarded to the league officials. It could be a while before there is a decision on whether the Premier League season will continue with something planned for Friday due to players on loan in the league. We will wait and see what happens.