The hurdles Premier League football must clear to resume

Since the beginning of March, when games were still being played in front of paying crowds, the Premier League has said it would follow government advice on the best way to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now everyone in the game is waiting to hear what proposals Boris Johnson will make in a televised address on Sunday regarding lifting lockdown restrictions, and – so goes the hope – the work done by government to underpin them. There must be some concern that the Premier League finds itself in a halfway house this weekend; not prevented from restarting but not guided as to how it should go about it. If the government gives football the thumbs-up, attention turns to the key parts of any attempts to complete the season: two protocols, one for a safe return to training, the other to enable matches. Under current ambitions there is hope for a return to training on 18 May and matches roughly three weeks later on 8 June, before a seven-week blitz that would allow the season to be completed by the end of July. As part of the work of developing the protocols, club doctors were asked to analyse proposed measures and come back with questions. Games cannot be played in front of crowds but league officials are believed to have presented the use of neutral grounds too as a fait accompli during a shareholders’ meeting last week. They are necessary, they argue, to gain the support of the police – whoexpressed concerns about crowds gathering outside venues – and also to guarantee safety, with some stadiums deemed impractical to achieve physical distancing. Brighton’s chief executive, Paul Barber, said they had “the potential to have a material effect on the integrity of the competition” and on Wednesday his Aston Villa counterpart, Christian Purslow, expressed similar views. Both clubsare threatened with relegation and some feel neutral venues are being used as an excuse to call for the season to be curtailed. But more importantly, there is the issue of persuading men whooften have young families to take a leap of faith that they will be able to compete safely.