Coronavirus: Government supports plans for football to return

Culture Sec: "It is now up to the football authorities to agree and finalise the detail of their plans, and there is combined goodwill to achieve this for their fans, the football community and the nation"

Project Restart composite 1:10
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told the government briefing how they will decide on the return of elite sport

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, says the government is "opening the door" for football to return in June.

The Premier League has begun planning for matches to be played behind doors due to the coronavirus pandemic - and players may be set to return to training next week.

Safety measures will be put in place and Dowden says the sport's plans have the government's support, as long as safety remains paramount.

He hosted a meeting with football authorities on Thursday and says: "We all agreed that we will only go ahead if it is safe to do so and the health and welfare of players, coaches and staff comes first.

Oliver Dowden is Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Image: Oliver Dowden wants finances from the game's resumption to support 'the wider football family'

"The government is opening the door for competitive football to return safely in June.

"This should include widening access for fans to view live coverage and ensure finances from the game's resumption supports the wider football family.

training 2:19
Kaveh Solhekol reports on what Premier League footballers can expect to happen when they are permitted to return to training with their clubs

"It is now up to the football authorities to agree and finalise the detail of their plans, and there is combined goodwill to achieve this for their fans, the football community and the nation as a whole.

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"The government and our medical experts will continue to offer guidance and support to the game ahead of any final decision which would put these plans into action."

Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang training
Image: Premier League clubs could start training again next Tuesday

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam suggested at Thursday's government briefing no date should yet be inked for the sport to resume.

Asked about the possible return of football on June 12, Van Tam said: "The overall approach has been tentative, measured, slow, and that is exactly the plan that is underway for all of elite sport, not just football.

"Small, carefully measured approaches to seeing what can be achieved safely.

"We will have to see how that goes before it is time to move on, or even think about moving on, to the return of competitive football matches.

"We have to be slow, we have to be measured."

Richard Masters was previously the Premier League's Managing Director
Image: PL boss Richard Masters has spelt out the financial consequences of not finishing the Premier League season

Analysis: Safety and teamwork needed for football's return

Bryan Swanson, Chief Reporter, Sky Sports News...

This was a chance for English football to update the government, collectively, on the significant impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The game's top administrators received further reassurances that a resumption of games is supported, when it is safe to do so.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden stressed the need for "combined goodwill" and teamwork is key.

The government is well aware that football makes a significant contribution to the UK economy. HMRC receives more than £3 billion per season from Premier League clubs in taxes, including more than £1 billion from players' salaries.

We are still no clearer to knowing exactly when football will restart, but the target remains in June.

Premier League clubs have still to formally approve a return to training next week, in a sterile non-contact environment. Each club has to provide a Covid-19 focused occupational health risk assessment by May 15.

A shareholders meeting on Monday should provide clarity on the first tentative steps of 'Project Restart'.

The English Football League [EFL] board has informed clubs in the Championship, League One and League Two a return to training should not take place until May 25 at the earliest.

Premier League image 1:01
Former Liverpool players Jamie Carragher and Jamie Redknapp discuss how players may struggle for form and fitness upon their return to Premier League football due to the coronavirus pandemic

The financial impact on the game was discussed, and the Football Association is well aware of the enormous strain, particularly on the lower leagues.

Premier League clubs agreed in April to advance £125m of funds to the EFL and National League. English football's governing body has always indicated the need for teamwork.

preview image 0:43
UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday says athletes' health and welfare led government guidance on safe return to training during coronavirus pandemic.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told MPs clubs are losing revenue at an 'unprecedented level', and said the competition faces a loss of at least £1 billion if they fail to complete this season.

He also warned heavy losses have to be 'dealt with' or clubs and other businesses who depend on football for income will 'go out of business'.

EFL chairman Rick Parry has told MPs their clubs face a £200m financial hole by September.

These are unpredictable and anxious times for everybody.

English football needs to work more closely than ever before if it is to stand any chance of recovering from the huge financial impact of an international emergency.

But the message from the government is clear - the safety of all participants must always remain the No 1 priority.

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