The Premier League on Saturday was given British government approval to press ahead with its June 17 restart, although players will have to stay apart during goal celebrations and disputes to maintain social distancing.
Further details of the league’s plans for dealing with COVID-19 cases have been disclosed with clubs likely to have to play even if they only have 15 fit squad members.
In a further boost to the league’s restart plans, there were no positives in the fourth round of twice-weekly testing. Tests were conducted on 1,130 players and club personnel on Thursday and Friday as contact training resumed.
The season was suspended in March and the government is now willing to allow games without fans if prevention protocols for the novel coronavirus are followed by those in stadiums.
Where possible, social distancing must be maintained at games including “during any disputes between players and referees, or scoring celebrations,” the government said.
However, there is a recognition that players will not always be able to stay 2m apart while playing, it said.
“There is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of everyone involved,” Premier League chief executive officer Richard Masters said. “This includes consulting with our clubs, players and managers — along with all our other stakeholders — as the health and welfare of our participants and supporters is our priority.
“If all goes well, we will be thrilled to resume the 2019-20 season in just over two weeks’ time,” Masters said.
The league agreed to a government request for some games to be broadcast for free, whereas they are usually only available on subscription channels, to make them accessible to fans unable to attend games.
However, authorities want Liverpool’s key games — before they almost certainly clinch the trophy — to be played away from the city and in neutral stadiums. Liverpool are two wins from ending their 30-year title drought, 25 points clear with nine games to go.
“We need to ensure people don’t congregate around stadiums,” British Secretary of Culture Oliver Dowden said at a Downing Street news conference. “I think fans will behave responsibly. I think the British people have shown real good common sense throughout all this. I am sure they will understand the need to watch at home.”
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