Premier League CEO Richard Masters on fans returning, VAR and racism ahead of new season

Richard Masters says the Premier League are trying to create a safe environment for fans to return to amid the coronavirus pandemic and explains changes to VAR for 2021/22 season; watch Brentford vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event on Friday from 7pm; kick-off 8pm

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Premier League chief executive Richard Masters says the return of fans and broadcast agreements in place means the league is on a secure financial footing following the worst of the coronavirus pandemic

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has confirmed any supporter found guilty of discriminatory abuse in stadia or online will be banned from attending every ground in the league.

The measure is part of a raft of newly-announced anti-discrimination regulations named the 'No Room for Racism Action Plan' which aims to "make it clear any form of discriminatory behaviour is unacceptable in football and wider society".

Speaking at a Premier League Kicks event to inspire young people, in a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports News ahead of the new season, Masters also discussed the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and changes to VAR for 2021/22.

He spoke of confidence in rule changes that will have the purpose of preventing any potential future efforts to create a breakaway division similar to the European Super League.

Newcomers Brentford play Arsenal on Friday, live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event, in the first game of the campaign and Masters cannot wait to see "over 300,000" fans back in top-flight stadia this weekend, with venues able to return to full capacity after a 2020/21 term largely played behind closed doors.

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What will the new changes to the No Room for Racism campaign entail?

"Anti-discrimination is a big priority for the Premier League and all of its clubs, we won't tolerate anti-discrimination behaviour in our grounds or online. We are trying to take as many steps as possible to deal with those issues.

"We announced yesterday that if you are caught using discriminatory language then you can not only be banned from your own club but from all Premier League grounds and that includes online as well now.

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"Secondly, we are doing a lot of steward training with fans coming back to help them deal with these situations should they arise.

"We hope they won't and we're helping with fans regarding fan education so they can understand the impact that this has on some people around them, particularly the players.

"It clearly still exists, we saw that over the summer with regards to the England team and it needs to be dealt with. We have a number of people dedicated to identifying these offensive posts, taking them down, working with social media companies.

"The companies have got to step up and we've been pressuring them, and we've got the Online Safety Bill coming through government so it's what we're all trying to achieve."

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People who use social media to send racist abuse can no longer hide behind the internet, says police chief constable Mark Roberts

Is the Premier League doing enough to combat discrimination?

"We are certainly trying to, the priority for us and for all of our clubs this year is our No Room for Racism Action Plan, a sweep of programmes designed to deal with the issues and also to improve opportunities for all the employment areas that we offer."

How excited are you for the start of the new season?

"We all get excited, it seems like the last season has just finished. The main thing about this season is having fans back, and at Brentford on Friday we'll have a full stadium again and that's fantastic.

"I'm absolutely sure the Premier League will continue to be competitive, Manchester City are going for their sixth title and you know they'll be there or thereabouts, the transfer window now is in full swing.

Supporters were back in numbers at Anfield for their pre-season friendly against Spanish side Osasuna
Image: Supporters were back in numbers at Anfield for their pre-season friendly against Spanish side Osasuna

"The league always gets a boost from major competitions so I think there'll be more interest than normal because of Gareth Southgate's brilliant England team's performance at the Euros.

"This weekend we'll have 300,000-plus fans back in stadiums and the Premier League will be kicking off again. I think any number, four, five or six [can win the title]. As so many have found, winning back-to-back titles is a huge mountain to climb."

Messi isn't coming to the Premier League, is that a disappointment for you?

"The Premier League has always had its fair share of the world's best players and we're lucky to have that. I think there's a unique set of circumstances around Lionel Messi, the pandemic, the situation at Barcelona with him leaving.

"It would have been nice to have seen Messi enjoy a few seasons in the Premier League in the twilight of his career but it wasn't to be and we'll be fine."

Image: Lionel Messi was unveiled as a PSG player on Wednesday

Do you think that there will be less disruption due to coronavirus this season compared to last year?

"It is going to feel more normal but we have to, as we always have done, put safety first and we're trying to create as safe an environment as possible for fans to return into.

"This virus has a habit of coming and second-guessing you at any point and we've been set loads of challenges by it and by the government and we'll be ready to meet the next one should it come along."

What has been the financial impact of the pandemic?

"Across the Premier League economy in the last 18 months, we've lost about £1.5bn-plus in revenue and that creates some significant challenges for clubs to manage and they have done that.

"So it hasn't been easy but what I can say is with fans back, with some of the broadcast agreements we have put in place, we have got a more secure footing.

"Not just for the Premier League but for the whole of the professional game who as you know we filter a lot of our revenue down to, into the pyramid and into grassroots. So it's good news to everybody."

The owners' charter changes were voted on in June, how confident are you that those changes can prevent a European Super League project from happening again?

"I think the charter changes we agreed to in June are an end to this. I think it's not an end to perhaps some of the issues that created it. It was a bad idea, poorly executed and it's been consigned to the past I believe.

"We are in discussions with those clubs involved and we will put in place rule changes to make sure that these things won't happen again. We had a lot of support from the government and in particular, from fans, everybody showed what they thought of the concept.

"They played a huge role in seeing it off within 48 hours of it being born. Whether it's the Premier League, English football or European, you either believe in a sporting pyramid or you don't and I do and I know that Premier League clubs do as well."

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Premier League chief executive Richard Masters says changes to handball and VAR decisions this season will mean more goals will be awarded

There will be thicker lines with VAR when it comes to offsides this season, can you explain what the changes will be?

"There is a raft of changes coming through the PGMOL which are all good. The handball law has changed for the better so we'll see a few of those really offensive handballs being given by the laws of the game.

"I think generally, referees are going to try and let the game flow more, having a higher tolerance for giving fouls on the pitch particularly for lower body contact and particularly in the penalty area.

"It's come from how VAR was managed during the Euros and players' feedback and from coaches and executives over the summer. What we did see during the Euros was a higher threshold for intervention and again that is going to come in in the Premier League and we hope that'll be successful.

"With regards to marginal offsides going back to an original decision, it is where the attacking and defending lines are drawn together, another thicker line will be put on top of those lines and the benefit of the doubt will be given to the attacker. So we think that up to 20 goals last season would have been given [if the system had been in place].

"The telemetry workings of the VAR official won't be on-screen, they won't be shown to the fans at home anymore and it will just be the one thicker line. We thought it was frustrating supporters actually watching it and that they'd rather find out what the final result was."

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