Premier League chief gives grounds for optimism with ‘guinea pig’ suggestion
Premier League clubs are prepared to be “guinea pigs” in any phased reopening of stadiums, the competition’s chief executive has said.
The 2019-20 English top flight season is set to resume on Wednesday evening after a three-month absence due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The remaining 92 matches of this season will be played behind closed doors, with mass gatherings still banned as a consequence of social distancing measures designed to restrict the spread of the virus.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters says football will not be “back with a capital B” until fans can return, and that it will be an “odd experience” to see the conclusion to the 2019-20 campaign played out in empty stadiums.
The league is part of cross-sport discussions with Government on the return of fans to stadiums, with an initial meeting taking place last week involving sports minister Nigel Huddleston and deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam.
At this stage discussions have only looked at what the conditions necessary in the country would be to permit a phased reopening of venues, but Masters is keen for the Premier League to play its part in helping with any projects around the reintroduction of supporters.
“It would be wrong for me to start making predictions about when fans might be allowed back in the stadium and on what basis, whether it’s phased or otherwise,” he said.
“But those discussions have started across sports and we are active participants in them. We are keen to offer our experiences, and club perspective to act as guinea pigs for any particular experiments.
“We’re very happy to do all of that, as far as we’re concerned we would like it to happen as soon as it’s safe and appropriate to do so.”
Masters defended the fact that the Premier League is going into the season without an agreed plan between the clubs of how to proceed if the campaign cannot be finished.
The English Football League does have an agreed framework, which the lower two divisions of its competitions have put into place.
There are concerns that there is no commitment from clubs to guarantee relegation from the Premier League but Masters is confident the top flight and the Championship will be able to be completed and remove any integrity questions.
“All the focus has been on completing the season and we decided a couple of weeks ago to only discuss curtailment if it became apparent it was going to happen, so there is no point in me speculating what would happen at that stage,” he said.
“Right now we’re at the eve of the Premier League restarting, we’ve got confidence about it finishing, the Championship is starting at the weekend so I see no reason why we can’t complete both seasons and for promotion and relegation to take place as normal and to do it that way.”