Premier League wary of announcing return amid backlash fears over testing plans
The Premier League is fighting shy of announcing football’s return amid fears of a public backlash over plans to introduce widespread Covid-19 testing.
Club bosses think Boris Johnson could rush through football’s return as a tool to boost government popularity.
Ahead of the Prime Minister’s review of lockdown on May 7, there are growing signs that clubs will return to full training next month ahead of a possible restart to the 2019-20 season in June.
But any return to competitive professional sport is dependent on an ambitious undertaking to screen all key staff frequently at clubs.
That is a costly endeavour, requiring a huge operation of medics testing players up to three times a week, with kits available at all clubs, and underwritten by the league.
And senior figures within top clubs, and the league, are aware of the potential for a damaging outcry against football’s return when people are still dying from the disease.
In particular, there has been much unease expressed around the league at football being seen to be using its wealth and status to secure testing when NHS staff are still struggling to receive proper protection from the government.
We understand medical staff at many clubs – including leaders Liverpool, who stand to gain most on the resumption of fixtures – have expressed concern over the moral implications of testing players if NHS staff are still denied that procedure.
It leaves the Premier League with a dilemma.
In talks, it has become clear football can only resume if there is a widespread testing programme, which will almost instantaneously identify and then isolate any cases of the virus.
That will require some form of quarantine conditions when group training gets underway, testing from that moment, and effective contact tracing if any cases are identified.
We understand the Premier League has held conference calls with clubs to discuss the practicality of testing – a complex operation that will require major funding which could see a bill well in excess of £5million, with thousands of tests required.
The league will foot that bill, but they recognise testing cannot proceed until the government has hit its own target of 100,000 a day… and can demonstrate to the public that all frontline healthcare workers have been tested and will have access to tests on demand.
The testing programme will be discussed further at a league meeting on Friday.
They will also discuss making a further donation to the NHS, in addition to the £20m the league provided at the start of April, to help meet testing and PPE targets.
There are still details to thrash out on such a massive undertaking, but there are precedents to follow.
German clubs have been in training for almost a month now, and the Bundesliga looks likely to return in May.
It has drawn up documents for the resumption, which includes 41 pages of detailed recommendations on what will happen in all scenarios.
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