Premier League return would ‘lift the spirits of the nation’ Dominic Raab says

The foreign secretary Dominic Raab says the UK is looking at sports being played behind closed doors in the next phase of its virus response. By Sky news

Speaking at the government’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Raab said ministers were looking at sports being played behind closed doors in the second phase of its coronavirus response.

Asked about football’s top flight coming back in mid-June, the current time frame the footballing authorities are working towards, Mr 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… to a stage where children can safely return to school, but also enjoy some of those pastimes, sporting in particular.

“I know that the government has had constructive meetings with sports bodies to plan for athletes to resume training when it’s safe to do so.”

The plans are understood to have been well received, but concerns have been expressed in some quarters about safety and the integrity of the competition if games go ahead at neutral sites.

Manchester City star Sergio Aguero is among players who have expressed concerns about returning to action.

Former England striker Gary Lineker, who is now a television pundit, told Sky News there were “mixed opinions” among players about resuming the season. “They want to come back, but obviously they want to come back in safe circumstances,” he said.

Lineker added: “An ideal situation would be to complete the season and then see where we go.But it’s such a moving feast, it’s really difficult to make any kind of sound prediction.”

The Premier League has believed to be looking at using between eight and 10 stadiums, with venues likely to be picked based on the ease of ensuring social distancing.

Return-to-training protocols, which include wearing face masks or snoods, were also presented to clubs.

The teams will consult their players and coaching staff on the proposals, which are still subject to approval.

Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, has raised the possibility of halves shorter than 45 minutes when games return.

Resuming matches from the week beginning 8 June is still understood to be the Premier League’s best-case scenario.

Teams are expected to vote on the key principles of “Project Restart” at a meeting on Monday, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the nation about the next phase of the UK’s response to COVID-19.

The Premier League said in a statement on Friday: “The league and clubs are considering the first tentative moves forward and will only return to training and playing with government guidance, under expert medical advice and after consultation with players and managers.”

Meanwhile, the chairman of the English Football League has warned the 2020-21 season may not start until crowds are allowed back into stadiums.

Rick Parry, who warned it would be “very messy” if the Premier League blocked teams being promoted from the Championship, told MPs the EFL needed a “reset” and said talks around salary caps and other cost controls were taking place.

Action would also be needed to address a £ 200 m “cash hole” that clubs were facing by the end of September, Mr Parry added.

Editor: Judy Smith

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