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Wembley ‘offered up’ for Premier League return as Spurs backtrack on furlough decision

The English Football Association (FA) has reportedly offered up Wembley Stadium and St George’s Park to the Premier League as it looks to finish its 2019-20 season amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The Times, citing a source familiar with the matter, said the two venues could be used if the Premier League is forced to complete the season behind closed doors.

Under the plans, London’s Wembley Stadium and the St George’s Park national football centre in Staffordshire could host up to four matches per day. Such a plan would help limit travel for players, officials and members of the media, with the behind-closed-doors model designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 among fans.

“When we know about the length of lockdown and exit mechanisms, we can see which options are viable,” the source told The Times, whose report added that St George’s Park could act as a quarantined training base for clubs. St George’s Park has 13 pitches and serves as the training base for the England national teams.

The Premier League said earlier this month that the 2019-20 season would only return when it is “safe and appropriate to do so”. Professional football in England has been postponed since March 13 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Elsewhere in football, Tottenham Hotspur has backtracked on its decision to furlough some of its non-playing staff following a backlash from supporters.

Tottenham announced on March 31 that it would reduce the remuneration of its 550 non-playing directors and employees by 20 per cent using the government’s furlough scheme were appropriate during April and May.

In a statement released yesterday (Monday), the club announced that all non-playing staff, whether full-time, casual or furloughed, would receive 100 per cent of their pay for April and May. Only the board will take salary reductions.

Tottenham acknowledged that “many supporters” were against the decision to furlough staff who could not carry out their jobs from home.

Chairman Daniel Levy said: “The criticism the club has received over the last week has been felt all the more keenly because of our track record of good works and our huge sense of responsibility to care for those that rely on us, particularly locally.

“It was never our intent, as custodians, to do anything other than put measures in place to protect jobs whilst the club sought to continue to operate in a self-sufficient manner during uncertain times.

“We regret any concern caused during an anxious time and hope the work our supporters will see us doing in the coming weeks, as our stadium takes on a whole new purpose, will make them proud of their club.”

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has been fitted with equipment to operate drive-through COVID-19 testing and swabbing for NHS staff, families and their dependents. The stadium becomes the first in the Premier League to be opened up for testing.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has also been repurposed and fitted to house the North Middlesex Hospital Women’s Outpatient Services, freeing up capacity at the hospital to treat patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

Another club opening up its stadium to support the health services is the St. Louis Cardinals Major League Baseball franchise.

The Cardinals have teamed up with Anheuser-Busch, Fox Sports Midwest and the American Red Cross to host a blood drive at Busch Stadium on April 21. Donors of all blood types, especially type O, are being urged to give now and help to ensure blood products are available for patients in the spring.

The Red Cross has implemented a number of measures to ensure blood drives and donation centres are safer for donors and staff, including checking individuals’ temperatures before they enter, providing hand sanitiser, spacing beds to follow social distancing practices, increasing disinfecting of surfaces and equipment, and staff wearing basic face masks.

Anheuser-Busch is a long-time partner of the Cardinals and has led the effort to identify available arenas and stadia to be used for temporary blood drive centres. The company announced last week that it would redirect sports and entertainment investments to its non-profit partners to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, professional football is still going ahead in Belarus and reigning champion Dynamo Brest has devised an innovative way to fill its stadium for the recent cup semi-final against Shakhtyor Soligorsk.

Dynamo Brest and sponsor FavBet offered fans the chance to ‘virtually’ attend the match by buying tickets online and having their picture placed on mannequins inside the Brestsky Sports Complex.

Fans from Russia, the UK, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Iran and other countries bought tickets and sent their pictures to the club, which then cut out the images and attached them to mannequins dressed in shirts of famous clubs and national teams from around the world.

Each fan received a photo report and video review of the match, while they will also be sent a physical ticket and match-day programme. Fans will also be entitled to a 10-per-cent discount on all official merchandise in Dynamo Brest’s online store.

Part of the proceeds from the sale of virtual tickets will be used to help Belarus’ fight against COVID-19.

Finally, venues across the Nordic region have lit up in green to offer a symbol of hope during the crisis.

Leading cultural and concert centres joined forces on the campaign, which is designed to support healthcare workers, volunteers, parents, people suffering from illness or loneliness, the elderly and other people in quarantine, as well as individuals whose lives have been impacted by the virus.

Since April 9, the following venues have been lit up green as part of the campaign: Tampere Hall and Tampere Opera in Finland, Harpa in Iceland, Estonian National Opera and Ballet and the Concert Hall in Estonia and Vanemuine Theatre in Estonia.

A similar campaigned launched in the US last week, with a number of major-league stadia and arenas lighting up blue in tribute to essential workers on the front line during the crisis.

Image: Jbmg40