UEFA’s Premier League ‘Project Restart’ deadline
If you just read the back pages of the UK press and ignored all other news, you may think that the Premier League’s return is imminent.
For several days, papers have been peddling the possible details of ‘Project Restart’ – the plan to resume Premier League football during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, football’s resumption isn’t occurring in a vacuum.
The UK has the 6th highest recorded amount of positive Covid-19 cases in the world: 158,348.
While the UK’s death toll from the virus is currently at 21,092.
Data sourced from Johns Hopkins University.
So how can football restart in this environment?
On Tuesday, the Times reveal that UEFA have put a time limit on the Premier League to provide a satisfactory answer to that difficult question:
The Premier League has been given a deadline of May 25 by Uefa to provide its detailed plan to restart the season.
Uefa has told leagues that it needs to know by that date if the competitions will restart, when they plan to do so and which format they will use.
— Allie Hodgkins-Brown (@AllieHBNews) April 27, 2020
Watford raise moral objection
What will happen if one Premier League side disagrees with the framework for ‘Project Restart’?
That issue appears to be crystallising at Vicarage Road, after Watford chief exec Scott Duxbury has spoken out against the Premier League plans to return to action.
Duxbury, as quoted in the Guardian, has aired his moral objections to restarting football as Covid-19 continues to kill people:
I feel uncomfortable at this stage even talking about football because there are people dying every day, there are stresses on the NHS, and that has to be the priority.
Do I want to resume football? Absolutely, and when it’s safe and the government says it’s fine and all the players and support staff that follow football can return, then I’m 100% behind that. But at the moment I feel all efforts have to be on beating the pandemic and supporting the NHS.
I have a lot of friends, a lot of colleagues in Italy, some of whom unfortunately have died because of this and I think it does bring home how serious this situation is.
I’m not trying to be disrespectful when I say I don’t think football is important at the moment. This is the fight that’s important, the support that we’re providing is important.
Of course we have to get back to normality, of course football plays a huge part in that, but at the moment the world finds itself in an awful situation, and this is where our focus needs to be.
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) April 27, 2020
Disagreement over ‘neutral venues’
While Watford have clearly outlined their moral problems with football’s return, the assumption is that this line of argument won’t be enough to stop ‘Project Restart’.
Why? Because while the UK government are peddling claims that football’s return may help with mental health issues in the country, most will assume that the real reason pressing forward with ‘Project Restart’ is money.
There is too much money involved in Premier League football, which is why there’s such a clamour to have it back.
But could problems of sporting integrity halt ‘Project Restart’ instead?
On that issue, the Times reveal that some unnamed Premier League clubs have problems with plans to have some of the remaining 92 scheduled league fixtures played at neutral venues. Readers are told:
(There is) significant opposition from some top-flight clubs over its idea of using neutral venues.
(Some) clubs are opposed to the idea of playing the remaining 92 matches at a limited number of neutral grounds, believing that it would damage the integrity of the competition.
Social media on ‘neutral venues’
There has to be a tipping point whereby finishing the season no matter what, under any conditions, at any cost to sporting integrity becomes a farce.
The idea of a relegation decider between Bournemouth and Brighton being played at St George’s Park, with 5 subs, seems ludicrous.
— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) April 27, 2020
Note: Hotel lockdowns not necessary for ‘Project Restart’
On Monday, reports suggested that all Premier League players could be sectioned off from the rest of society in order to complete the 2019-20 season.
That could include keeping all the players locked down in hotels for six weeks.
However, the Times today report that hotel lockdowns are not part of the ‘Project Restart’ plan:
It is understood that Project Restart does not include players being quarantined in hotels. Ultimately the Premier League will take guidance on that from the government, the police, and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
There is already a widely held view across professional sport that using a limited number of neutral venues is the most realistic option.
This article was edited by Benjamin Newman.
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