London, May 14 (efe-epa).- The government favors the resumption of Premier League soccer next month, the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said Thursday.
“Today’s positive meeting I hosted with the football authorities progressed plans for the resumption of the professional game in England,” Oliver Dowden said after talks with representatives of the Premier League and the Football Association.
“We all agreed that we will only go ahead if it is safe to do so and the health and welfare of players, coaches and staff comes first,” he said of the discussion, which also included high-ranking police officers.
The season was suspended March 13 as part of the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19, which has claimed nearly 34,000 lives in the UK.
What the Premier League is calling Project Restart initially envisioned a return on June 12, but the tone of conference calls Wednesday involving managers and team captains seemed to point to June 19 as a more likely date for the first match since mid-March.
“The government is opening the door for competitive football to return safely in June. This should include widening access for fans to view live coverage and ensure finances from the game’s resumption supports the wider football family,” Dowden said.
“It is now up to the football authorities to agree and finalize the detail of their plans, and there is combined goodwill to achieve this for their fans, the football community and the nation as a whole,” the secretary said.
The presidents of the 20 Premier League clubs are due to vote next Monday on whether to proceed with Project Restart and, if so, on what terms.
Reportedly, both players and managers want a four-week preseason and because the soonest training will resume is the middle of next week, accommodating that request means delaying the first match to June 19.
But Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho said that he was anxious for matches to resume.
“I have not asked for any delay. I want to train and I am desperate for the Premier League to return as soon as it’s safe to do so, particularly now as we are seeing other leagues preparing to return to action,” he said, alluding to the impending return of Germany’s Bundesliga.
Though Premier League clubs accept the idea of playing matches behind closed doors, they have pushed back against the UK government’s proposal for games at a limited number of neutral sites.
This week has brought signs that officials are increasingly sympathetic to clubs’ desire to play in their own stadiums.
Addressing another aspect of the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Premier League said that player contracts due to expire June 30 could be extended by mutual agreement until whenever the season ends.
“What we decided today is to ensure as far as possible that clubs complete the season with the same squad they had available prior to the suspension of the campaign,” the league’s chief executive, Richard Masters, said in a statement.
“Players can extend their contracts beyond 30 June until the end of the season, but it must be agreed by both parties,” Masters said, giving teams and players until June 23 to decide on extensions. Chelsea’s Willian and Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen are among the players with contracts set to expire at the end of next month. EFE