What does Boris Johnson’s speech mean for the Premier League?

The UK’s Prime Minister spoke on Sunday night over his plan for combating coronavirus. We look at how it will change the Premier League’s plans.

What did the Prime Minister say?
Boris Johnson essentially said that he was sketching together the rough outline of a roadmap to an indeterminate plan.

Five points must be achieved before Britain can consider re-opening:

Sufficient critical care capacity
Sustained fall in deaths
Rate of infection decreasing
Testing and PPE to meet demand
No risk of the second wave
Johnson will speak to Parliament on Monday, where he says he will give more details on the proposed easing of lockdown.

How is this going to affect football in England?
Not much compared to the current plans that are already being prepared. There was already the intention to start football again – the feted Project Restart – with the aim of completing the Premier League by the end of July. The new rules essentially restate the old ones, but with an increased focus on returning the country to work. Johnson did say that those who cannot work from home should start to return to their jobs – this would include football – and hinted at some guidelines for working safely in the future.

What does Boris Johnson's speech mean for the Premier League?

UEFA has given a May 25 deadline for leagues to inform them of their plans to resume action, with the governing body indicating it is happy for the Champions League and Europa League to be concluded in late August, once domestic campaigns able to restart are over.

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There has long been talking that the government wants to bring back football to television, some of it free to air, in order to provide relief from the extended lockdown.

Remind me about Project Restart.
The basis of the Premier League’s plans for Project Restart was set out in the Daily Mirror. They are:

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What does Boris Johnson’s speech mean for the Premier League?

The Premier League to pay for a comprehensive training regime
Phased return to training – this, as per The Telegraph, is penciled in for mid-May
Full training, to start towards the end of May
Games to resume in early June
On-going communication with the government on match-day requirements
But what about all the players who have tested positive?

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Brighton announced that they have three players who have tested positive, and they – along with the rest of the bottom six – have been beating the drum to call off the season. Of course, they are interested in preserving their status in England’s top league, but the recent tests demonstrate that their concerns over safety are valid. It conceivably takes just one positive test when the season restarts to throw the whole thing off into a total cancellation.

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This risk is obvious. German side Dynamo Dresden has suffered the same problem as Brighton, despite Germany’s excellent handling of the pandemic. AC Milan’s president Paolo Scaroni has said some of his squad is still recovering from the virus, and there are positive results for players in Spain as they ease their own lockdown. Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder expects two or three players at least to duck out of the restart as they are concerned over their safety.

Are leagues going to open their doors any time soon?
It isn’t likely. It is hard to see how people will stomach the risks after the exposure in Cheltenham appeared to increased exposure to coronavirus in the local area. Similarly, looking back at the game between Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, it appears bizarre that the game ever went ahead.

What does Boris Johnson’s speech mean for the Premier League?

However, it is not quite clear what the evidence will show in the long term. A recent study suggested that prolonged exposure in an open area is a dangerous idea, hence the impact of Cheltenham. However, attending a football game in the open air for two hours may not be excessively risky. Riskier is going into an office, a call center or another cramped workplace. Considerations that also need taking into account is there are also only limited supplies of PPE equipment for the NHS and there are not yet enough ventilators should a second wave be harsher than the first.

If temperature scans are in place outside grounds, and if everyone is made to wear a mask, then ultimately we may see a return to relative normal quicker than we currently imagine.

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