ON JUNE 12, THE ENGLISH PREMIERSHIP STANDS!

ON JUNE 12, THE ENGLISH PREMIERSHIP STANDS!

The June 12 date, which many politically sensitive Nigerians are aware of, is the date that the English Premiership has penciled down for the season’s restart.

The June 12 election in 1993 is widely believed to be the most credible poll ever conducted in Nigeria, yet the results were annulled by the Military.  Twenty-seven years later, the English Premiership will restart on that date as timetable for the resumption of the 2019/20 season is unfolded.  

According to Daily Mail, the first Premier League fixture is likely to be on Friday, June 12.

However, some Premier League clubs are arguing that relegation should be scrapped because games must be played at neutral grounds.

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber said: ‘Playing matches in neutral venues has the potential to have a material effect on the integrity of the competition.’

Brighton were due to be at home in five of their remaining nine matches. But there is growing consensus that the usual rules will have to apply to ensure competition is meaningful.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that initial plans for the restart centred on only four neutral grounds being used in the Midlands, but pushback from Premier League clubs meant that the league has now settled on eight to 10 grounds being used.

That is because the Government will only license a maximum of 10 grounds because of the fears of coronavirus contagion if matches were played home and away.

All games will be played behind closed doors initially.

A timetable has been proposed, though the Premier League has stressed to clubs that it will only be acted upon when the Government says it is safe.

However, the Government is keen for football to restart if it can as the economy tentatively begins to open up. The key dates pencilled in are May 11: a return to group training but with social distancing; May 25: contact training begins and June 12: Premier League matches resume.

There will be more detailed talks this week and the Professional Footballers’ Association will have to be consulted over key aspects to reassure players.

The idea of quarantining players in hotels is losing momentum.

However, there will still be a raft of medical protocols to observe before a restart and there are major problems to be resolved with players. These include all players being tested for respiratory problems and undergoing an electrocardiogram heart monitor test because it is feared the virus could damage heart muscle. It is unclear how to deal with players with asthma and diabetes.

One Football League club has five players with underlying health conditions who are at increased risk. It is unlikely they could take part in any restart and many clubs report similar problems.

All players and staff will be tested twice a week to minimise the risk. But it is impossible to eliminate all risk and explaining that to players while reassuring them that the risk can be kept within acceptable limits is key.

The Premier League have agreed to pay for all tests, which will be carried out independently, but the league will only allow that if the Government says that there is sufficient capacity for public testing. The same applies to ambulance capacity and the attendance of medics at matches.

Players already fill in a well-being app each day to record their sleep times and muscles strains. They will now have to record whether they or any member of their family has any coronavirus symptoms. If they do, they will have to be tested and not attend training.

Testing will be extended to players’ families, but that will only be allowed if there is sufficient public testing capacity. Players will have to follow strict rules at home which will mean they remain under effective lockdown even if the restrictions are eased for the general population.

If a player tests positive they will be withdrawn and isolate for seven or 14 days. Crucially, the entire squad will not have to be isolated. They will all be immediately tested and any further cases withdrawn. It has not been decided how many players testing positive would trigger a match being postponed. Physios and medics will be able to work as long as they use personal protective equipment.

A key point raised was that teams should not play in their home cities, thus discouraging crowds from gathering outside grounds.

The Premier League want both sides travelling approximately the same distance which is why many games will be in The Midlands. Molineux and the King Power Stadium are expected to be among the approved grounds.

Spacious stadiums which allow social distancing and are less prone to crowds gathering are more likely to receive a licence. Wembley is expected to host the FA Cup final and therefore may also be included as one of the neutral venues but most will be existing Premier League stadia.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and the Government’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam met with the medical chiefs of the Premier League, the FA, the English Cricket Board, the Rugby Football Union and the British Horseracing Authority last week to establish the medical protocols for returning to sport and another meeting is expected this week. Government sources insist that the mooted point of raising the nation’s morale with the return of sport is not part of the discussions and that sport will only resume when medical experts deem it safe.

All games will be screened live and TV companies would like matches played every day of the week. Whether the FA Cup is interspersed within those games or comes as a week-long fiesta of football at the end of the season is under debate.

Although UEFA has stated that domestic leagues are the priority, the FA Cup will finish this season if the Premier League resumes.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham has said that the national governing body will lose more than £100m because of the coronavirus pandemic. As such, it is financially imperative that the FA Cup resumes, if permitted by the Government.

That has been central to discussions as Premier League clubs are well aware of the financial pressures the FA are under, having had Euro 2020 cancelled and all international games called off for the foreseeable future.

The FA Cup final has been pencilled in for Saturday, August 8, although a midweek date of August 5 is also under consideration. It is expected to be the final game of the season. It is unclear where the protocols and restrictions under which football will operate will leave the English Football League. Sources at the EFL insist that they await Government advice, but the official position is that they want to resume the season whenever they can, playing home and away fixtures.

Given that the Government will only license certain neutral grounds and there is the costly logistics of tens of thousands of tests, it seems unlikely that could happen in June for League One and Two teams. One EFL club owner said that the likelihood of resuming the season now was as low as five per cent, though others remain determined to try until the last possible moment.

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