MANCHESTER, Engalnd (AP) — The English Premier League stepped up planning on Friday to resume the competition in neutral stadiums, holding separate talks with the government and its clubs to discuss the COVID-19 testing and logistics necessary.
Players at some clubs returned to training grounds this week for individual fitness work but Britain remains in a national lockdown until next Thursday.
Forms of social distancing will remain in place even if the lockdown is eased, but clubs are hoping squad trainings can begin within weeks. That would require the Premier League to buy thousands of COVID-19 tests so players and coaches can be regularly checked, but there are still shortages of them in wider society.
The aim is to resume the league after June 8 following a three-month suspension, with games without spectators in any stadiums. Police expressed concerns that fans could still gather outside stadiums if their team was playing at home.
So no team is now due to play any of their remaining matches in their own stadium because the league does not believe all 20 grounds would be granted a safety certificate with police and medical resources already stretched across the country dealing with the pandemic.
“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,” the Premier League said in a statement. “The league welcomed the creation of the government medical working group for a return of elite sport, which met for the first time this morning.”
Decisions by the Dutch and French governments over the last week led to their soccer seasons ending. But British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he was working on plans that deliver for the Britons who “desperately want sport back on.”
“We just kicked off 1st of many detailed meetings to plan for a safe return of elite sport behind closed doors when, & only when, it is safe to do so on the basis of expert medical advice,” tweeted Dowden, who oversees sports in the government. “Lots to consider, but today we step up planning.”
For now, the Premier League decided only on Friday to stop its youth competitions. That means Liverpool still has the possibility of playing its remaining nine Premier League matches to end a 30-year title drought.
“The clubs reconfirmed their commitment to finishing the 2019-20 season,” the league said, “maintaining the integrity of the competition and welcomed the government’s support.”
The 20 clubs in Serie A also held a video conference on Friday and they were said to be in agreement that the season should be completed if they can do so in accordance with government guidelines and by respecting health regulations and protocols.
Lower-league professional soccer clubs in England have been told they might not be allowed fans at their matches until 2021.
Bradford City disclosed details from a meeting on Thursday with the English Football League. The fourth-tier club said it had been informed of the “ever-growing possibility of supporters being unable to attend matches until 2021.”