Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has insisted that all 20 clubs remain committed to completing the 2019-20 season after the UK government announced yesterday (Monday) that professional sport could be able to resume in England from June 1.
The UK government released a 50-page document yesterday to spell out how England can move towards easing lockdown measures, which have been in place since March following the COVID-19 outbreak.
The announcement that professional sport could resume behind closed doors from June 1 potentially paves the way for the Premier League to return next month, and clubs met yesterday to discuss the league’s latest plans.
The possibility of playing matches at neutral venues was discussed but Masters stressed that clubs’ preference is for matches to be played at their originally scheduled venues.
“Obviously it is the preference of all our clubs to play at home if at all possible,” Masters said. “It is an ongoing dialogue and we’ve been talking to the authorities about the conditions in which we could get the Premier League back up and running and are taking all that advice on board.”
Masters added that consultation between players and managers is vital to any resumption plans, with a meeting scheduled with them later this week. After this point, the next step of clubs returning to training while observing social distancing will be put in place.
Masters also confirmed that a company has been appointed to conduct COVID-19 testing at club training grounds.
On yesterday’s announcement from the government, Masters said: “We welcome these first steps and are ready to play our part. We are working flat out with clubs and stakeholders – government, our broadcast partners, the FA, the EFL, PFA and the LMA – to create a responsible, safe and deliverable model to complete the season.
“Of course, safety comes first. We must listen to government, the authorities and the medical experts and continue to follow their advice. That is exactly what we are doing. We are getting ourselves in the best position to resume the season, but only when the conditions are right.”
Masters added that yesterday was the first time that the possibility of curtailing the season was openly discussed, but stressed that it remains the league’s aim to finish the campaign.
Clubs also discussed the Premier League’s broadcast-rights situation, with Masters admitting that there will be a “significant” loss of revenue for clubs. The BBC reported that clubs could end up repaying around £340m (€388m/$420m) to broadcasters, even if matches end up being played behind closed doors.
Should the Premier League resume with matches at home venues, West Ham United would appear free to play at London Stadium after UK Athletics was forced to cancel its Anniversary Games event, which had been scheduled for July 4-5.
The Games had been due to form part of the Diamond League series of events but the decision to cancel has been taken in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
UK Athletics chief executive Joanna Coates said: “We are hugely disappointed to confirm the cancellation of one of the flagship events of the global athletics calendar, but we must place the safety of the entire athletics family at the forefront of every decision we make during these unprecedented times and ensure we are following government advice.
“Cancelling the event will have a significant financial impact on UKA and the wider sport. The revenue we generate from events – through ticketing, broadcast and sponsorship helps administer the sport and provide the essential governance services that we, as an NGB, oversee.
“We’re incredibly thankful to our commercial partners, some of which are continuing to support us during these tough times but there will be a substantial reduction in income from the cancellation of this event and this will have an impact moving forwards.”
West Ham and UK Athletics had become embroiled in a dispute over the use of London Stadium. West Ham had insisted that its matches would take priority, with UK Athletics having stated that no talks had taken place over how the venue would be used in the event of a clash.
The cancellation of the Anniversary Games would appear to pave the way for West Ham to play at London Stadium in early July.
The news comes after Major League Baseball’s planned series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs at London Stadium was also cancelled. The series had been due to take place on the weekend of June 13-14.
On June 26, Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer are due to perform at London Stadium as part of their joint Hella Mega Tour. So far, this has not been cancelled.
Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball could begin its 2020 season around the Fourth of July weekend, the Associated Press reports.
According to the news agency, league owners have approved plans to propose this date to the players’ union. Games would take place without fans and the proposal could see spring training begin in early to mid-June.
Officials from the league are set to present the plans to the players’ union later today. MLB was forced to delay the start of its season in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak and there are plans for teams to play 82 regular-season games each when the sport eventually resumes.
The AP reported that the health and safety of players, families, staff and stadium workers would be central to today’s talks. Under the proposal, the end-of-season play-offs would expand from 10 to 14 teams and end in early November.
Where possible, teams would play in their home stadia. Teams whose stadia are unavailable would play at spring training facilities in Florida or Arizona.
Football’s Danish Superliga has outlined plans to resume its season behind closed doors on May 28.
As previously announced, the first match will be AGF Aarhus vs Randers, which was the only game that did not go ahead during the last round of fixtures before the league’s postponement. This match will take place on Thursday, May 28, with subsequent matches to be held on Friday and into the weekend.
The Superliga has been suspended since March 9 following the COVID-19 outbreak.
AGF Aarhus has announced that it will offer virtual Zoom tickets for the Randers match as part of plans to keep fans engaged. Fan footage from the Zoom calls will be relayed on video screens at the team’s Ceres Park stadium during the match.