Coronavirus wrap: PL neutral venues confusion and Murray set for tennis return

The use of neutral venues again became the talking point ahead of a proposed return of the Premier League and FA Cup, while tennis fans will see the Murray brothers back on court next month.

With the coronavirus pandemic seeing English game halted in mid-March, the Premier League announced its intention to resume action on June 17 subject to Government clearance.

The Football Association has also announced its dates for the final three rounds of the FA Cup, with the quarter-finals played over the weekend of June 27 and 28, the semi-finals on July 18 and 19 at Wembley before an August 1 final.

But whether certain games will be played on a home-and-away basis or at neutral venues is unclear after statements from two key police forces on Friday.

They come after UK’s football policing lead, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts of South Yorkshire Police, had earlier suggested games would be moved at local forces’ request.

It was claimed five matches, including Liverpool’s Merseyside derby against Everton on the weekend of June 19-22 and ones involving Manchester City and Manchester United, would need to be played at neutral grounds.

Merseyside Police’s assistant chief constable Rob Carden said in a statement to the Liverpool Echo: “Merseyside Police is ready to provide whatever policing is required of us in relation to games being played at our Premier League stadia once the season restarts.

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Merseyside Police said they are “ready to provide whatever policing is required of us in relation to games being played at our Premier League stadia once the season restarts”

“In relation to crime and disorder we have no objections to any of the Everton or Liverpool home fixtures being played at their respective grounds. We have a good working relationship with both clubs, and their fan groups, and are content that we can work together in advance of the restart of the season.”

GMP assistant chief constable Nick Bailey said: “Whilst all games are routinely risk-assessed in advance – with the health and safety of all those involved being the main priority – our considerations in the current climate present a different dimension and we have to ensure that Government regulations and guidelines will be adhered to.

“We identified three games in our force area that present factors which need further consideration, and GMP is working with both clubs and the relevant Safety Advisory Groups (SAG) to assess if we can safely facilitate the playing of these matches at their intended locations.

“A decision will be made by the SAGs in due course and we will support whichever outcome is decided.”

FIFA has warned that football will be “very different” until a Covid-19 vaccine is found.

The governing body has released a risk assessment tool to help its 211 member associations and six continental confederations facilitate a safe return to football following the coronavirus pandemic.

In tennis, Andy Murray will return to action on June 23 as part of a six-day tournament organised by brother Jamie.

Jamie Murray, the seven-time grand slam doubles and mixed doubles champion, has helped put on a behind-closed-doors tournament called ‘Schroders Battle of the Brits’.

It will see the Murray brothers and the likes of Kyle Edmund and Dan Evans play each other at the Lawn Tennis Association’s Roehampton Base.

The tournament, which will crown singles and doubles champions, will be screened live on Amazon Prime and raise a minimum of £100,000 for the NHS.

England’s players will have a “bridge to the outside” if their international summer of cricket can go ahead.

LancashEmirates Old Trafford is a proposed venue for England's behind closed doors games this summer ire CCC Groundsperson Feature
Emirates Old Trafford is a proposed venue for England’s behind closed doors games this summer (Peter Byrne/PA)

The England and Wales Cricket Board is hoping to stage games against the West Indies, Pakistan, Australia and Ireland across all three formats, once it gets the green light from the Government that it is safe to do so following the coronavirus pandemic.

Plans are being made to play matches at two bio-secure venues, with a third made available for training, where players will be subject to stringent testing and safety protocols once they are inside.

There were suggestions that the players would be forced to stay in camp for the whole summer, but that no longer looks to be the case, meaning Joe Root would be able to leave to attend the birth of his second child in July if it happened when he was on England duty.

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The ECB’s director of special project Steve Elworthy says the bubble has to be kept tight, but there would be movement allowed in and out.

“This is what they’re calling, I think, the bridge to the outside,” he said. “That’s the latest terminology. What we’re doing from a testing point of view – all the different elements of where a person is going. Which household they are moving into and when they’ll come back into the bubble.

“That protocol of moving in and out through that bridge is currently being worked at with the doctor.

“Clearly, the more people you have in and out of the bubble, the weaker the bubble is. But at the same time, there are going to be circumstances when people will need to leave. I absolutely get that.”

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