English Premier League steps up ‘Project Restart’
June 8 is mooted as the return date for England's top flight
The English Premier League has ramped up its plans to resume top flight football in England with what has been dubbed "Project Restart".
The EPL was suspended on March 13 due to the Covid-19 outbreak and will only resume tomorrow, at the earliest.
That date is likely to be pushed back further, as lockdown measures are in place in the United Kingdom until May 7.
EPL stakeholders will meet on Friday to discuss the way forward, with widespread speculation over a potential June 8 restart.
The British government's cabinet minister responsible for sport said he has been in talks with the league with the aim of getting footballers back on the field as quickly as possible.
Speaking at a parliamentary questions session, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden said: "I personally have been in talks with the Premier League with a view to getting football up and running as soon as possible in order to support the whole football community.
"But, of course, any such moves would have to be consistent with public health guidance."
The EPL's medical adviser, Mark Gillett, and the Football Association's head of medicine, Charlotte Cowie, are understood to be part of a group of officials who will meet on a weekly basis with government and public health representatives, reported AFP.
Regular Covid-19 testing of all players and key staff would be a crucial part of the restart plan and the cost of those tests would be borne centrally by the league, according to reports.
But global players' union Fifpro believes the return of football could send a "bad signal".
Said secretary-general Jonas Baer-Hoffmann: "There is a huge logistical and medical/scientific question about testing and protocols but also a social one.
"We need guidance and protocols on how to return in a healthy and safe manner. Football is a contact sport and we feel very high protection standards are required.
"Are we sending the right message to society, and are we encouraging a healthy return to normal life?
"Or are we sending a bad signal that football has different rules to the rest of the world?"
European football leagues have been given a May 25 deadline to inform governing body Uefa of their plans to restart their domestic competitions, reported Reuters.
In a letter to the 55 federations, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin wrote: "National associations and/or leagues should be in a position to communicate to Uefa by 25 May 2020 the planned restart of their domestic competitions, including the date of restart and the relevant competition format...
"In the event that a domestic competition is to be prematurely terminated for legitimate reasons... Uefa would require the national association to explain by 25 May 2020 the special circumstances justifying such premature termination and to select clubs for the Uefa club competitions 2020/21."
Three London clubs - Arsenal, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur - along with Brighton & Hove Albion, have already reopened their training grounds, allowing a limited return to training while observing social distancing protocols.
Those clubs say that players will only be using outdoor field facilities for individual work and will not take part in team activities.
Last week, the EPL said it was "working through complex planning scenarios" and there are a number of practical hurdles that they face.
With Britain's ban on mass public gatherings likely to be one of the last restrictions to be removed, rescheduled games could be held behind closed doors, possibly at neutral venues.
English cricket's governing body, the ECB, has been given the leading role for all sports in the country, including football, in examining how to create "bio-secure" venues, with the focus on stadiums with hotel facilities connected or nearby - to limit the need for extensive travel.
However, Watford chief executive Scott Duxbury said: "Football, for me now, just needs to be put to one side.
"I feel uncomfortable at this stage even talking about football as a narrative, because there are people dying every day."