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
Last Updated: 06/05/20 7:04am
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.