The United Kingdom issued a plan to begin re-opening the country during the coronavirus pandemic in a move that has widespread implications for sports. Legally the English Premier League has the ability to resume on June 1 without a crowd in attendance, but the possibility of soccer being back so soon in the U.K. is tenuous at best.
With a lot of moving parts to this situation it’s unclear if the June 1 date will hold, so we’re here to try and make sense of it all.
What guidelines did the U.K. pass down?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a “conditional plan” for reopening in a speech given to the public on Monday. Along with it came a 50 page document outlining the government’s vision for how the region can return to normalcy.
It institutes a “Covid Alert System,” as well as plans to reopen schools and businesses by June 1, while also increasing fines to those breaking stay-at-home orders which will remain in place in the interim.
Specifically pertaining to sport, the plan sets guidelines for large-scale events to resume, but only for broadcast to homes in what it calls “Phase Two” of reopening. In a bullet point the document states:
”Permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed-doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact.”
This means that the EPL could resume plan on June 1, but there are more hurdles than just the government making it okay.
More work needs to be done to convince teams it’s a good idea.
Representatives from the 20 English Premier League teams are set to meet this week to discuss plans for restarting play. The season was cut short due to the pandemic, with the 2019-20 schedule still having 92 games yet to be played.
Traditionally the EPL season runs from August-May, with a brief gap before play resumes. A June 1 date would obviously fall in the middle of this break, and it’s unclear whether the league would rather simply abandon the 2019-20 season and wait to start again in August, rather than rush to return to the pitch early.
To complicate matters the only way the EPL can start again is by a 14 team majority vote. Over the weekend Scott Duxbury, chairman of Watford, said there were currently six teams who opposed resuming the 2019-20 season using neutral sites in a league-wide movement called “Project Restart,” which would close out the season using neutral sites. The fear for teams, especially those on the brink of relegation, is that a modified mini-season to close out the year would unfairly hurt their chances to stay in the Premier League.
These opposing teams already puts the vote on a June 1 return dangerously close to failing. It would take just one team joining these clubs to kill the vote, effectively forcing EPL to seek another avenue to return.
Is it safe to consider resuming the EPL season?
Despite the government’s insistence they are taking small steps and being cautious, the science behind re-opening the U.K. if iffy, at best. Unlike Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, all of whom have seen a long-term regression in their curve, the U.K. (much like the United States) is seeing a fluctuating pattern day-to-day, which might not indicate it’s safe to re-open the country, even under the government’s plan.
The National Education Union called Johnson’s plan to re-open schools by June 1 “nothing short of reckless,” with 92 percent of teachers polled saying they wouldn’t feel safe returning to classrooms by that date. Adding concern about the ability for children to maintain social distancing in a school environment.
What is the next step?
EPL teams will vote on a reopening plan later this week, which will determine how they plan to move forward. All signs currently point to the June 1 date being legal, but it likely being much later before we see the soccer season return.