Premier League players have been reminded by the British government that they must adhere to social distancing guidelines “wherever possible” on the pitch – with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden declaring that “the British sporting recovery has begun” after the league was given the green light to return behind closed doors on Saturday.
Dowden used the United Kingdom’s daily coronavirus news briefing to confirm the return of live sport next week, insisting that the English top flight is also safe to resume on June 17 provided it follows strict protocols.
Manchester City vs Arsenal and Aston Villa vs Sheffield United will kick the season off on Wednesday June 17 with a full round of fixtures the following weekend.
All 92 matches remaining of the campaign will be shown live on TV across Sky Sports, BT Sport, BBC Sport and Amazon Prime, with 29 of those games shown for free.
It is hoped that the Premier League campaign will be concluded on August 2, provided the country does not suffer a second spike of COVID-19 before then.
And the government have released guidelines that insist “social distancing should be maintained by all groups where possible” during events.
Players must celebrate two metres apart and cannot get into close disputes with match officials or opposition, with the competing athletes and support staff on the bench all expected to stay socially distanced.
Players and staff will also be regularly tested as part of a number of requirements the league must meet.
Dowden declared from 10 Downing Street: “I’m delighted to announce today that the government has published guidance which allows competitive sport to resume behind closed doors from Monday at the earliest and crucially only when it is safe to do so.
“It’s up to each individual sport to decide exactly when to resume competition, they know their sports best.
“Football, tennis, horse racing, Formula One, cricket, golf, rugby and snookers are all set to return to our screens shortly with horse racing first out of the gate in the north east next week.
“It’s been a huge challenge to get to this point. We’ve taken a forensic, clinician-led approach, working with Public Health England and the Department of Health every step along the way.
“We’ve had dozens of meetings and published pages of detailed guidance outlining first how to get elite athletes back into socially-distanced training and then back into contact training.
“Throughout all of this we’ve put the safety of athletes, coaches and support staff first and foremost.
“By working so closely with the sports themselves we’ve made sure that it’s been a collaborative, consensual effort to create the safest possible environments for everyone involved safe.
“The guidance outlines various measures that need to be in place for an event to go ahead and to keep everyone involved safe.
“That includes a screening process for coronavirus symptoms at the venue, a one-way system for people in vehicles, minimising the use of dressing rooms and of course, maintaining social distancing wherever that is possible.
“As all sports fully recognise, ensuring the mental health of their athletes and staff is as important as their physical health, particularly in these difficult times and our guidance today reinforces that.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work to get us here today so thank you to everyone involved and I know that this will be welcome news to many.”
On the return of the Premier League in particular, Dowden added: “Of course much of the media attention has focused on football because it has that special place in our national life and recognising its significance I set two challenges for football’s return.
“First, that a reasonable number of remaining Premier League games would be broadcast free to air and second, that the financial benefits of returning would be shared throughout the entire football family.
“So I’m glad to confirm today that a third of matches to finish the season will now be free to view, including the Liverpool vs Everton derby and live Premier League football will be on the BBC for the first time in its history.
“This is an open invitation for all fans to be part of this significant moment in our sporting history.
“It also of course has serious public health benefit of encouraging people to watch at home, which will be essential.
“Getting top leagues back up and running will also release much-needed funding to support clubs lower down, many of whom are cornerstones of their local communities.
“With both of these benefits, I can now make it official – football is coming back.
“Of course, these headline sporting events are only one part of the story. I really am keenly aware that even as we reopen some competitive domestic fixtures, not all events will be back on.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters responded: “The Premier League welcomes the government’s announcement today.
“We have provisionally planned to restart the Premier League on 17 June, but there is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
“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.”
Dowden also confirmed his desire to ensure that women’s sports do not suffer in the coming months, with the Women’s Super League having had to be cancelled following “overwhelming feedback from clubs”, in the words of the Football Association.
The FA added that the decision – which is expected to see Chelsea crowned as champions – was made “in the best interest of the women’s game”.
Dowden continued: “Given the deserved momentum that had built up behind women’s sports after football, cricket and netball World Cups, I will be working hard with the sports minister to make sure we don’t lose any of that progress.
“Visibility matters and our daughters deserve to see female athletes on the main stage.
“For a sporting-loving nation, today really is a significant milestone. We won’t be sitting in the stands for a while and things will be very different to what we’re used to but live sport will be back on our screens next week. The British sporting recovery has begun.”
The government are also eager to kickstart the return of grassroots sports and excercising will now be allowed with up to five people from different households, provided they all remain 2m apart during.