Premier League backs ‘Project Restart’ but COVID-19 questions remain

Seeking to break COVID-19’s scheduling impasse and logistical complexities, the Premier League is reported to have established ‘Project Restart’ to maintaining its desired objective to conclude the 2019/2020 football season.

The Sunday Times this weekend reported that Premier League governance targets a ‘league restart’ on Monday 8 June, with matchdays to be played behind closed doors at ‘select stadiums’, completing league proceedings by 27 July.

The Premier League is looking at a seven-week window in which to complete its remaining 9 matchday schedule (92 games in total), thus avoiding a clash with the start of a new season on Saturday 8 August.

Project Restart’s plans will have to be approved by the government’s public health advisors, who will likely demand that all athletes, managerial training and medical staff be tested and cleared of COVID-19 symptoms.

A restart on 8 June has been detailed as a critical date for the Premier League, allocating enough time for clubs to prepare players to compete professionally post-lockdown.

Furthermore, the league will have to prepare clubs and stadium personnel with the complexities of playing in ‘sterile environments’, ensuring logistics with regards to player travel, injuries and ‘unavoidable contact’.

The UK’s availability of virus testing will be a critical factor in whether the league secures its restart. The Sunday Times adds that as yet Premier League bosses have made no protocols on screening and testing to secure their intended plans.

Broadcasting will also play a critical role, as the Premier League will have to resettle its disrupted programming schedule with Sky and BT Sport. Should the season fail to conclude, the Premier League faces a £750 million legal battle with Sky and BT for failing to deliver on its existing £3 billion broadcasting rights contract.

The office of PM Boris Johnson is reported to support the Premier League’s restart plans as a ‘morale boost to the nation’. Ministers have urged broadcasters to televise a number of matches without pay restrictions – something that Sky and BT have yet to respond to.

Operating under unique circumstances and monitoring COVID-19 scenarios, Premier League governance has formed a ‘working group’ with wider sports counterparts examining how to ‘return to play’ safely and place the least stress on the UK’s emergency services.

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