The Premier League has developed plans for clubs to play televised games in isolated “World Cup-style” camps in the midlands and London over June and July, in order to try and finish the 2019/20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The football authorities have been in discussion about ideas over the weekend, with games “behind closed doors” still seen as the likeliest solution, but the idea of isolated camps is one the clubs keep returning to. It has gained increasing traction in the last few days.
The huge broadcasting contracts and other financial concerns have increased the pressure on clubs to complete the season, but one considerable advantage to the idea is that it would be a “TV mega-event”. The Independent has been told that plans have been drawn up to televise all remaining 92 matches, with a handful on every day over the summer months.
It is this aspect that has drawn increased government backing, too, as they like the idea of the population engrossed in the national sport, especially in the event that lockdown measures are tightened or extended.
In order to complete the plan, clubs and their staffs would be confined to separate hotels away from their families, just like in an international tournament – albeit with full testing and quarantine conditions. The aim is to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19 as even one case could derail the whole plan.
That is why the idea is for games to take place in June and July, when a much more rigorous testing system is likely to be in place and curve has hopefully been flattened.
That would make it far easier to plan, but the idea is still fraught with logistical problems.
It is not just clubs that would have to be confined to quarantined bases, but also all officials, cameramen and outside broadcast crews.
There also remains the moral issue of having medical officials at what are ultimately “non-essential events”, not to mention potential hospital visits.
“Where does a player who does his cruciate or breaks his leg go after he’s stretchered off?” one source privy to the plans asked. “Hospitals will have much bigger concerns. The Premier League would almost have to have a private hospital blocked off.”
It is for this reason that summer is seen as much more viable than May, both logistically and politically. The optimistic view is that the curve will have flattened, but there will also be considerable political backing behind the plan.
A cultural event as big as the Premier League returning would be seen as a big step in the return to normality, as well as a psychological boost to the nation. There is also the competition’s part in getting the economy moving, especially given the size of the TV event the games would be, driving industries from advertising to gambling.
The mood among players is more and more fixed around finishing the season if it can be done behind closed doors.
As regards venues, the plan would almost certainly see fixtures in the midlands and maybe London, but it is possible that training-ground pitches could be used rather than stadiums. St George’s Park has come up in discussions, but is currently discounted.
The current feeling is that “everything is on the table in order to get games played”. This “World Cup base” idea had been mooted when the Premier League was initially postponed at the start of March, but is one that the clubs have kept coming back to, and has been given more shape in the last few days.
It is generally accepted that nothing will get off the ground, however, until testing is more widespread.