Elite sport in England could start behind closed doors from June 1, according to government guidelines published on Monday, boosting Premier League clubs' hopes of completing their season.
The government's road map for exiting the coronavirus lockdown sets out the conditions under which various activities could be safely carried out.
Step two of the process, which cannot begin any earlier than June 1, includes “permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact”.
Events will only be allowed to take place if sufficient progress is made in limiting the spread of the virus between now and then.
It appears supporters in the UK face a long wait to attend matches, with the guidelines recognising a return to sport in front of a crowd “may only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections”.
Sports events involving international travel, such as football's European competitions, cricket tours and Formula One, could be affected by the government's planned introduction of an enforced 14-day quarantine period for arrivals to the UK, except for those from countries “on a short list of exemptions”.
Premier League clubs are meeting on Monday to continue their discussions on “Project Restart”. The English top-flight had been planning for a return to action no earlier than the week beginning June 8.
- Player concerns and financial reasons -
In England, players have voiced their concerns at the prospect of being rushed back into training and, eventually, into playing a contact sport at a time when the rest of the public remain encouraged to abide by social-distancing guidelines.
The UK has been one of the worst-hit countries in the global pandemic, with the government officially recording nearly 32,000 deaths of people who had tested positive for COVID-19.
“We are just people too,” tweeted Norwich midfielder Todd Cantwell on Sunday.
The Premier League's desire to overcome so many obstacles to complete the campaign is rooted in economic necessity.
Clubs stand to lose an estimated £1 billion ($1.2 billion) if the season is not finished, £760 million of which comes from TV contracts that would be satisfied if games were played behind closed doors.
Financial worries are also causing divisions among the 20 top-flight clubs, which could end the chances of a return to action.
A group of clubs near the bottom of the table are fiercely opposed to plans to play the remaining 92 games at neutral venues.
“With all these compromises and health risks we are asked to finish a competition that bears no resemblance to the one we started,” Watford's chairman and chief executive Scott Duxbury told the club's website.
“So is this fair? Does it have any semblance of sporting integrity? Of course not.”
Executives at Brighton, West Ham and Aston Villa have also publicly opposed the neutral-venues plan with the suspicion they will only back down if there is an agreement to scrap relegation this season.
However, that could cause even more financial hardship to the league as a whole.
Broadcasters are not keen on spending hundreds of millions for a series of glorified friendlies should the jeopardy of relegation be removed.
English Football League chairman Rick Parry suggested last week that legal action would be launched if promotion were denied to three clubs from the second-tier Championship.
Supporters face a long wait to be allowed to attend matches, with the latest guidelines recognising a return to sport in front of a crowd “may only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections”.
- Ranji Trophy quarterfinal: Tamil Nadu eliminates defending champion Saurashtra to enter semis
- Pramod, Yathiraj and Krishna win gold medals at Para Badminton World Championships
- Los Cabos Open 2024: Thompson downs Ruud to win maiden ATP crown
- Ranji Trophy Highlights 2024 Quarterfinals Day 3 Updates: TN beats Saurashtra by an innings; Andhra closes in on win vs MP
- IND vs ENG, 4th Test: Ashwin overtakes Kumble for most wickets in Tests in India