The Premier League faces a week of chaos after hopes of government direction on Project Restart were dashed by the prime minister.
A week ago expectations for a green light had been high after positive noises from senior politicians on the return of sport. But as the league convenes another extraordinary meeting of its 20 clubs on Monday morning, it is no closer to being given clearance to resume playing.
Addressing the nation on Sunday night, Boris Johnson did not mention professional sport or its resumption. This despite remarks from the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, two weeks ago that the Premier League should return “as soon as possible”, a remark which had raised the hopes of officials.
The league has always insisted it would be led by government on any resumption. It is understood that government guidance on the return of professional sport, from a working group led by the UK Sport chief executive, Sally Munday, is still being written.
A virtual meeting had been scheduled with clubs for last Friday, the day after the government was expected to review lockdown restrictions. When the prime minister confirmed an address for Sunday the Premier League agreed to convene on Monday.
The meeting will take place with no new information bar a general instruction from the prime minister that people should “work from home if you can … but you should go to work if you can’t work from home”. The only mention of the word sport came with reference to playing outside with “members of your own household”.
Dowden later tweeted: “In the least risky outdoor environments, we can imminently allow some sports activity like golf, basketball, tennis, fishing – solo/in households”, adding “guidance to follow”.
Monday’s meeting will bring together clubs increasingly at loggerheads over several problems. First among the concerns remains the safety of players, staff and all those associated with plans to play the remaining 92 fixtures of the 2019-20 season.
The league’s medical protocol remains unfinished but a draft is expected to be presented to clubs for their consideration before further discussions with the League Managers’ Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association later in the day.
The plans are likely to come under more intense scrutiny after Brighton, one of the clubs most outspoken against the proposed return, revealed that a third member of their squad had tested positive for Covid-19. The news came as there were also positive tests amongst players in Germany and Spain, leagues which are further along the path to resumption.
If the medical protocol is agreed it will likely be put to a vote later in the week, with the timescale assigned to Project Restart requiring a return to group training by 18 May.
It is not the only problem expected to provoke fierce debate, with players’ contracts and the use of neutral venues also set to take centre stage in what is expected to be a lengthy meeting.