Premier League to hold UK government talks

The Premier League will be the subject of talks with the UK government as the return of sports in the country is debated in the coming weeks.

The UK government will sit down with senior medical directors of the major sports over the next week to discuss returning to action as soon as possible, paving the way for the Premier League season to be completed. There has been no English top-flight football since March 9, when Leicester beat Aston Villa 4-0 at the King Power Stadium.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi both contracting the coronavirus several days later forced a last-minute change in the Premier Leagues plans to host fixtures as normal the following weekend.

The scale and severity of COVID-19 has been felt across the world since then, with the UK one of 210 countries and territories to be affected and 19,000 people having died of the virus in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But the government are ready to sit down and speak about the return of sport due to the boost in morale it could create among the public, though the health and safety of all those involved is the first priority.

BBC Sport claim via a source close to the plans that if progress is made in discussions, sport in the country could be resumed ‘within weeks’.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty’s staff will sit down in a series of weekly meetings with senior medical directors.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also aware of the plan, which encompasses football, rugby, tennis, cricket, snooker, Formula One and more.

The return of each sport will be examined by health experts to determine the measures that would need to be taken to bring them back.

It is thought that testing, social distancing, hygiene standards and strict limits on the numbers of people allowed in venues are among the key protocols to be discussed.

Each sports differing circumstances mean some sports will be able to return more quickly than others.

A government spokesman said: “Ministers continue to work with sports governing bodies on how live sporting events can resume in the future.

“This can only happen once we have passed the five tests for easing social distancing measures.”

Those five tests include slowing the infection and death rates of the virus.

Another aspects is an increase in testing, with Germanys management of the virus having opened up the possibility of the Bundesliga returning in May.

And despite the planned meetings, there must be progress outside of sport and in wider society for sports to resume in the near future.

The Premier League are determined to play out the remainder of the season behind closed doors, with early June mooted as a potential restart date.

But they must overcome several problems first, with clubs to need time to get their players fully fit again while there are countless other issues to deal with – not least broadcasting.

There are 92 fixtures remaining, with 47 of those scheduled to be shown live by Sky Sports and BT Sport.

And Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden this week suggested that matches could be shown on free-to-air TV.

But BBC Sport warn that the remaining 45 matches will not necessarily be shown on other channels, because the Premier League are wary of their existing commercial contracts.

The league is said to recognise the importance of the revenue generated by Sky and BT in particular.

The Premier League will hold another meeting about returning on Friday, while the government will next review the UKs lockdown on Thursday May 7.

Some leagues across Europe have cancelled their campains, with the Dutch league abandoned on Friday with no promotion, relegation or champions.

That was with Ajax and AZ Alkmaar level on points, however, with UEFA’s ‘sporting merit’ qualification method for the Champions League therefore unable to be applied.

For leagues that cannot finish, Europe’s governing body will use a points-per-game basis to determine which clubs earn a place in the competition next term.

Belgium have cancelled their top division, although Club Bruges will be declared champions as the result of a 15-point lead over Gent.

Yet head of the Dutch FA, Just Spee, told BBC Sport when asked about the chances of other European leagues restarting the season: “It is slim.

“At the same time I do know that what is true for us, we are footballers we want to play, is true for all of my colleagues around the continent.

“And in the UK it is not different. So they will hold onto a sliver of hope as long as it’s there. But again, we’ve seen how this develops. Is it realistic? In the end it probably will not be but we’ll see.

“To be honest, seeing what is happening and seeing that things get postponed week by week by week, how realistic is it that within the next three or four weeks we will come to a different conclusion? Not so much I believe.

“And also the Premier League will need a number of weeks to complete their competition. Is there going to be enough time for that? Doubtful, very doubtful.”