The Premier League season must not resume if it poses any risk to life during the Covid-19 pandemic, regardless of the huge financial losses from television contracts that could follow, a senior football safety consultant has warned.
John Newsham, the former long-term safety officer for Blackburn Rovers and a former chairman of and now consultant to the Football Safety Officers Association, said much more work needs to be done to examine whether matches can be played safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The FSOA represents safety officers – a legally required role at all clubs strengthened following the Taylor report on the Hillsborough disaster – and it maintains that its members have not been properly consulted on the Project Restart plan to resume matches, Newsham said.
On the continually expressed view within the Premier League that the season must be completed to fulfil TV contracts, he said: “Nobody’s life should be jeopardised because of money. If a match has to be abandoned or can’t be played due to safety concerns, it is irrelevant that it is due to be broadcast on Sky. It is a worry for me if the TV money is at the back of people’s minds. Lives come first, it has nothing to do with money.”
Newsham said there remained many practical considerations to be worked out to protect the safety of players and all necessary staff from the spread of the virus inside stadiums, and also outside to ensure public safety and social distancing. Most safety officers at clubs are not currently working, he said, and some have been put on the government’s furlough scheme, which pays up to 80% of people’s wages to a monthly maximum of £2,500, on the basis that they are not working at all.
“There needs to be a lot more discussion with a lot more people,” Newsham said. “And a lot more risk assessments need to be carried out and practical discussions held about how it can be made safe.”
Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, said in parliament last month that he wanted to help the Premier League resume “as soon as possible”, within health advice, then on 5 May Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said at the government’s official Covid-19 press conference that a Premier League return would “lift the spirits of the nation”.
A YouGov poll published on Tuesday, as the coronavirus death toll officially exceeded 40,000, reported that 73% of people said the Premier League and EFL coming back would not lift their spirits, while only 19% said they would be pleased to see football return.