LONDON (AFP) – Tottenham became the latest Premier League club to open their doors to players on Tuesday as part of the “Project Restart” plan to finish the English top-flight season.
The Premier League has been suspended since March 13 due to the coronavirus crisis but there is growing belief the campaign can be concluded over the summer months.
Resuming matches on June 8 is reportedly among the ideas set to be discussed when the Premier League’s key stakeholders meet on Friday.
That would require full training to begin by May 18 and Premier League clubs are starting to work towards that date by giving players the option of using their training grounds.
Tottenham have followed Arsenal, West Ham and Brighton in allowing players to use facilities for individual sessions that conform to social-distancing guidelines.
“No more than one player per pitch will be permitted at any one time to undertake on-pitch exercise, with only a restricted number of the squad coming to the training centre each day,” a Tottenham statement said.
“Each player will travel independently and arrive at the facilities already dressed in training wear before returning home immediately after they have concluded their session.”
After weeks of lockdown in Britain, ministers believe the return of football would boost morale.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden who is responsible for sport, said he had been in talks with the Premier League “with a view to getting football up and running as soon as possible” but stressed any moves would have to be consistent with public health guidance.
The clubs remain committed to ending the 2019/20 campaign and there are compelling financial and legal reasons to play the remaining 92 games.
– ‘Health concerns’ –
The Premier League’s medical adviser, Mark Gillett, and the Football Association’s head of medicine, Charlotte Cowie, are understood to be part of a group of officials who will meet on a weekly basis with government and public health representatives.
Regular virus testing of all players and key staff would be a crucial part of the restart plan and the cost of those tests would be met centrally by the Premier League, according to reports.
All clubs will be working to the same protocols in terms of training sessions, which will be designed to minimise the risk of infection.
Matches would almost certainly be played behind closed doors and clubs have reportedly been told that only approved stadiums could be used, with higher health certification than normal.
The Professional Footballers’ Association are involved in discussions and have raised the issue of players not wanting to be put at risk by returning too soon.
“We have reiterated that players are not just footballers but partners, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters who share the same health concerns as everyone else during this pandemic,” said PFA deputy chief executive Bobby Barnes.
“We have been assured of the intentions of all that there would be no resumption unless guarantees of safety could be given to the players.”
The return of football remains controversial, with Britain still battling the pandemic.
Watford chief executive Scott Duxbury said: “Football, for me now, just needs to be put to one side. I feel uncomfortable at this stage even talking about football as a narrative, because there are people dying every day.
“There are stresses on the NHS and that has to be our priority.
“When it is safe and the government say it is absolutely fine for players and support staff to return, then I am 100 percent behind that.”