On Monday afternoon, the UK government released “Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s Covid-19 Recovery Strategy,” a 50-page document detailing the plan to reopen the UK. The pertinent bit for football fans is Step Two of the plan, which permits “cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact” and cannot begin until at least June 1.
That date is the absolute earliest the Premier League could return from its March 9th coronavirus suspension of play. It’s likely that the season will not resume until later. Under the plan, to progress to Step Two, five tests must be satisfied.
The Premier League itself does not have a fully published plan to resume the season although “Project Restart” details have been kicking around in the media. Prior to today’s government announcement, the Premier League had been loosely targeting the second week in June for a return to play under the assumption that players would return to training on May 18th. The most recent plan had the remaining 92 fixtures being played out at 10 grounds from around the Premier League. Regardless of the effect of today’s announcement on that plan, those targets were league-side only. Any return plan and timetable would require the sign-off of the players, and it’s understood that those negotiations have yet to take place formally.
The Premier League shareholders met today to work on plans to deal with player contracts expiring on June 30th. The league also has to plan for a transfer window complicated by the fact that the continental leagues will likely complete their seasons before the PL is able to complete its season. Furthermore, teams still involved in the continental competitions won’t know until UEFA’s May 27th announcement whether those competitions will be completed or cancelled. Those competitions may be affected by the mandatory 14-day quarantine imposed on arrivals to the U.K. by the reopen plan, although professional footballers may be one of the few exceptions to that policy.
Coming out of today’s meeting, the Premier League shareholders did not offer public comment on the newly published government plan.
Whenever play resumes, it will be behind closed doors and in empty stadiums. Fans will not return in-person until significantly later. Under the plan, things like movie theaters and hairdressers won’t open until at least July 4th in Step Three. Step Three further states, “some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to reopen safely at this point, or may be able to open safely only in part.” Clearly, football stadiums fall under that description, and the plan warns that opening large venues “may only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections.”