Premier League return: Neutral venues dilemma as government seeks national 'lift'

Talks continue to find suitable neutral venues for Premier League fixtures; Dominic Raab says return of sport "would lift spirits of nation"; four PL club doctors express reservations

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Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insists medics and scientists will dictate when competitive football can return on a closed-doors basis in the UK

The return of Premier League football would "lift the spirits of the nation", the Foreign Secretary has said, but discussions remain ongoing over the use of neutral venues.

Speaking at the government's daily COVID-19 briefing, Dominic Raab said ministers were looking at sports being played behind closed doors in the second phase of its coronavirus response.

Asked about football's top flight coming back in mid-June, the current timeframe the footballing authorities are working towards, Mr Raab said: "I think it would lift the spirits of the nation.

"I think people would like to see us get back, not just to work and... to a stage where children can safely return to school, but also enjoy some of those pastimes, sporting in particular.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (left) and Manchester United's Harry Maguire battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday January 19, 2020. See PA story SOCCER Liverpool. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
Image: The return of the Premier League will be a 'lift' to the nation, says Raab

"I know that the government has had constructive meetings with sports bodies to plan for athletes to resume training when it's safe to do so."

Talks over the use of neutral venues to fulfil this season's Premier League fixtures have taken place but St George's Park will not be one of the locations.

Concerns raised by both police chiefs and Safety Advisory Groups (SAG), notably over crowds gathering and social distancing within stadia, mean the campaign cannot be finished in the usual way with supporters travelling across the country to follow their team to away venues.

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Talks over what the most appropriate grounds are to use in this scenario are continuing as officials try to find a way for football to return amid the coronavirus pandemic but St George's Park is not being considered, while the use of Wembley has not been discounted.

Chairman Steve Parish says Crystal Palace have offered staff assurances over pay amid the coronavirus pandemic. 1:30
Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish told The Football Show that completing the Premier League season at neutral venues is the 'least-worst option'

However, there are issues under consideration, which include how likely fans are to gather outside the stadium and how easy it is for police to control the surrounding areas.

The stadium layout and potential difficulties over social distancing, even down to details such as narrow corridors, are also to be taken into consideration, as well as the infection rates in the areas surrounding the venue.

BURTON, ENGLAND - JULY 10:  In this handout image provided by The FA, A general view of the Sir Alf Ramsey indoor training pitch during a media event
Image: St George's Park will not be one of the neutral venues

Premier League officials are keen to ensure that travel times for teams are similar so the stadium's location is also a factor in the decision-making process.

Bearing in mind the criteria being considered, it is likely that modern stadia not in close proximity to housing areas are likely to be chosen.

This could mean the likes of the Etihad, Southampton's St Mary's ground, the London Stadium, the King Power in Leicester and Brighton's Amex are more likely to be used should this scenario prove practical.

However, it would mean the likes of Vicarage Road, Bramall Lane and Turf Moor are less likely to be used, while both grounds in Merseyside, Anfield and Goodison Park, would also be excluded.

Project Restart: Key PL meeting moved to Monday

Liverpool's Andy Robertson and Leicester's Harvey Barnes chase the ball
Image: Clubs remain hopeful they will be able to begin training in the third week in May

Premier League shareholders had planned to meet on Friday after the government update but will now take time to understand the Prime Minister's latest advisory on lockdown and social distancing ahead of their meeting on Monday.

The new date will give the Premier League and its clubs time to consider government plans more fully. Clubs remain hopeful they will be able to begin training in the third week in May, ahead of a return to match action potentially in the middle of June.

Four club doctors have reservations over restart

Meanwhile, four Premier League club doctors have expressed reservations about the Project Restart proposals, Sky Sports News understands.

As part of Project Restart, the Premier League has been consulting with its members and had asked club doctors for any questions, concerns, and feedback on plans for football to recommence.

However, a number of these questions will only be answered after the UK government gives its updated guidance on Sunday.

In an in-depth preview, Sky Sports News' chief reporter Bryan Swanson and reporter Kaveh Solhekol explain where Project Restart - the plan to resume football in England - is up to, what needs to happen before football can return and the hurdles which must still be overcome.

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Carra questions 'no relegation' stance

The Football Show - Jamie Carragher
Image: Jamie Carragher admits the stance of some Premier League clubs doesn't sit well

Jamie Carragher says the reported stance of some bottom-half Premier League teams agreeing to play at neutral venues if relegation was off the table doesn't sit well with him.

It has been reported that a growing number of Premier League clubs would be willing to play the remaining fixtures at neutral venues if the threat of relegation was removed.

It is understood clubs were told on Friday limiting action to a handful of selected stadiums was the only way it would be possible to complete the remaining matches of the 2019/20 season for safety reasons.

Around Europe: 'Project Restart' or season over?

Jadon Sancho
Image: The Ligue 1 season is over but the Bundesliga hopes to resume

With football suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, what is the current situation around Europe's top leagues?

Here, we take a look at what is happening in the various English and Scottish divisions, as well as the state of play in Spain, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal.

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