LONDON (AFP) – Britain’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is hopeful the English Premier League can resume by mid-June despite concerns raised by players and coaches over the need for an extended period of training before matches restart.
Premier League clubs met yesterday to sign off on protocols that will allow a return to training this week, while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
The last top-flight match in England was on March 9 and Newcastle manager Steve Bruce said on Sunday his players could “fall down like a pack of cards” with injuries if matches return before the end of June.
England international Raheem Sterling also expressed his concern at a quick turnaround between a resumption of training and playing matches.
The Premier League have reportedly been aiming for a return on June 12.
Dowden insisted public safety remained the priority, but is also hoping a restart is only around a month away.
“I had some very constructive discussions on Thursday with the FA, the EFL (English Football League) and the Premier League,” Dowden told Sky News yesterday.
“We are working hard with them to try and get it back, aiming for mid-June, but the number one test is public safety. They, like a lot of other sports we’re looking at returning behind closed doors, have met with Public Health England several times to look at the safety.
“If we can sort that out then we will look to resume by mid-June. We’re making good progress.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament last week that the return of sport on TV would “provide a much-needed boost to national morale”.
The resumption of Germany’s Bundesliga over the weekend has raised expectations that the Premier League can follow suit despite the drastically different scale of the health crisis in both countries.
In the United Kingdom, the government’s official rolling tally of fatalities is nearing 35,000 compared to just under 8,000 in Germany.
Nevertheless, the Bundesliga is proving a test case for the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’.
English clubs who resisted a proposal for the remaining 92 matches of the campaign to be played at neutral venues will have been heartened that there were no significant problems with supporters turning up near stadiums in Germany for the restart.
If the protocols are passed, Premier League players can return to non-contact training later in the week.
However, former Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro warned of the risks being taken with players’ health without yet knowing the consequences COVID-19 could have on athletes.
“We simply do not know how the virus affects athletes,” said Dr Carneiro.
“From my experience, football does not have a culture of embracing and observing medical governance which, now more than ever, is required to ensure compliance.
“Not only in the short-term, but in the medium and long term, when fatigue with the new protocols sets in.”