February 1, 2023



Premier League’s Project Restart in doubt as players air safety concerns | Premier League

3 min read

The Premier League is facing the possibility of having to delay its Project Restart after a pair of crucial meetings with players and managers provoked a series of robust exchanges and diverging views.

A planned resumption of play on 12 June is now looking less likely, and kick-off a week later is now a possibility after issues over protocols for a safe return to play and concerns over the need for more training came to the fore.

Players had not previously had a chance to share their views on restart plans and at a two-hour meeting between 20 club captains, Premier League officials and the deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan van Tam, several of them chose to get concerns off their chest.

Players aired worries over safety, which the Premier League hopes to address with its return-to-play protocol. Others were concerned that giving their consent to abide by the protocol might leave them legally exposed should they contract Covid‑19, but those fears are believed to have subsequently been allayed.

In the managers’ group there was a focus on getting ready for the restart but again the protocols were central. The existing return-to-play arrangements do not address a safe way to engage in contact training, and without that players cannot get fully match fit. Some managers are believed also to have asked questions about what should be done in the event of a player testing positive for Covid-19, with the league still to agree upon a position over whether the entire squad should isolate as a result.

Leicester City v Aston Villa on 9 March was the last match in the Premier League before the Covid-19 shutdown.
Leicester City v Aston Villa on 9 March was the last match in the Premier League before the Covid-19 shutdown. Photograph: Andrew Kearns – CameraSport/CameraSport via Getty Images

Despite the number of opinions and sometimes their strength, the back-to-training protocol looks set to be finalised. The government, which issued its own guidance on Wednesday for what it called “stage 1” training for elite athletes and was in line with much of what the Premier League has decided, is expected to give its assent this week. The protocols will then be presented to the clubs for final approval at a shareholders’ meeting next Monday.

That meeting falls on the day group training was due to restart under Project Restart’s plan A. The first round of Covid-19 testing for players will then need to take place. Results could take two days to return in some cases, which would push training back towards the end of the week. With managers believing that players need four weeks to get match fit, rather than the three previously allocated, a 19 June start date becomes more logical.

The protocol is far from the only issue the Premier League will have to address, however, even to hit a delayed start date. Firstly there is the issue of contact training, with a second stage of protocols yet to be devised. Again these rules would have to be approved by government which looks set to address the issue in its “stage 2” guidance for sports. According to the new official information, however, stage 2 “will be finalised and communicated once the government has agreed to move to this step”. There is no timeline for when that decision will be taken.

After that there will be the problem of where and how to play matches. While the issue of neutral venues is now being reconsidered, it is far from agreed. Police have entered into negotiations with the Premier League but are understood to feel that neutral venues are still a live possibility, as is the curtailment of the season.

The Premier League was given some relief, however, with the news that all these details need not be resolved before the end of the month. The European governing body Uefa had previously insisted that its member leagues come to a conclusion as to how to finish the season by 25 May. That advice has now been relaxed.

“Uefa would like as much as possible to receive such information by 25 May,” the governing body said in a statement, “but we understand that detailed plans might not be fully available by then due to a variety of external constraints.

“Uefa would nevertheless expect to at least receive some indications as to the potential way forward envisaged by national associations and leagues by that date.”

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