Coronavirus: Government stepping up plans for return of sport, says Culture Secretary

Group of sporting medical experts have started to ramp up proposals that could see elite sportsmen and women return to fuller training, and ultimately competition.

Phil Foden takes on Brandon Williams
Image: Manchester United's 2-0 win over Manchester City on March 8 was the last Premier League match either side played before football was suspended

The government is stepping up its plans for the return of sport, says Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden.

The DCMS department hosted the first of several virtual meetings on Friday with leading medical experts from sport in the UK to discuss how sportsmen and women could return to training.

Medical representatives from football, rugby, cricket and racing, as well as Olympic and Paralympic sports, were present.

Dowden tweeted after the meeting: "We just kicked off 1st of many detailed meetings to plan for a safe return of elite sport behind closed doors when, & only when, it is safe to do so on the basis of expert medical advice.

Oliver Dowden is Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Image: Oliver Dowden is Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

"Lots to consider, but today we step up planning."

Next week, a DCMS committee inquiry will begin to look into the impact coronavirus has had on sport.

Dowden was questioned by the committee last week, when he expressed a desire for sport to return from its enforced break as soon as possible - as long as it is medically safe to do so.

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The committee has been gathering evidence for four weeks, and is chaired by Julian Knight MP.

Next Tuesday, they will hear from England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison, English Football League chairman Rick Parry, Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney, UK Sport chairwoman Dame Katherine Grainger and Sport England chief executive Tom Hollingsworth.

Premier League
Image: The Government are currently targetting a return for the Premier League in June

Analysis: So how might sport return?

Sky Sports News' Geraint Hughes...

The purpose of the meeting was to get the right people together with the right expertise to discuss and plan how a return of sport might look.

In the first of several expected meetings, the focus was mainly on how elite sportspeople might be able to return to a more structured training regime, albeit conscious of the backdrop of public health guidelines and being in line with wider government rules on social distancing.

Briefly discussed was also what would be needed to allow sport to resume behind-closed-doors, although it's expected that topic will be discussed in greater depth at subsequent gatherings.

It's understood that professional sport, athletes, broadcasters and media won't be treated any differently from the wider public, should government restrictions be altered in the coming weeks and months.

The success of current social distancing is believed to be in part down to the fact that our society is operating cohesively at the moment, so if rules are relaxed for some and not others, it may be more challenging to convince people to stick to government advice.

Nev: Take PL finish to a virus-free nation

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Gary Neville has suggested the idea of taking the end of the Premier League season abroad to a coronavirus free quarantined environment

Gary Neville has suggested the idea of taking the Premier League abroad to a coronavirus-free quarantined environment to finish the season, as the UK environment is not safe enough.

The Premier League still currently wants to finish this season, in line with UEFA's recommendation, although a return to domestic football is entirely dependent on government approval, and medical advice.

The authorities have been in talks with government officials for weeks, and the clubs are meeting on Friday and later next week to discuss plans about how to proceed.

However, Neville is beginning to wonder whether the environment in the UK, where 26,771 people have died due to the virus according to Thursday's official figures, is safe enough to house competitive football, even behind closed doors. He has suggested an alternative plan involving taking the final games to a country with sterile coronavirus conditions.

He said on The Football Show: "If the Premier League are really serious about delivering the matches that remain in a safe environment they would move it to the two or three spots that are within three or four hours of this country that are coronavirus free."

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