13 May 2020 – Tackling will be banned, pitches disinfected and players restricted to groups of five when the Premier League starts a first phase of team training.
Official protocols sent to players and managers on Tuesday and obtained by the BBC reveal that social distancing must be “strictly observed”.
Corner-flags, balls, cones, goalposts and even playing surfaces will be disinfected after each session.
League bosses hope training can begin on Monday, restricted to 75 minutes.
Ongoing surveillance measures included in further guidance include twice-weekly testing, and a daily pre-training questionnaire and temperature check.
Under a section titled ‘health screening’, players are also told a central register of Covid-19 test results (subject to their consent and Professional Footballers’ Association agreement) will need to be maintained.
Recommended “control measures” include “meticulous personal hygiene and use of PPE [personal protective equipment], no congregation in communal areas, including but not limited to medical rooms and gym areas”.
Under further stringent rules, players are told they cannot share transport with anyone to and from the training ground, and vehicle interiors should be cleaned regularly. Team vehicles and public transport should not be used.
Players are being consulted on proposed medical protocols for a return to training by the PFA. They have been given a condensed version of a 40-page document for them to digest.
The BBC understands the PFA has heard from a number of players, especially those who have underlying health conditions like asthma or who are from black and minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds, that they have real concerns about returning to playing.
Black men and women are nearly twice as likely to die with coronavirus as white people in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The draft protocols refer to “additional risk assessment and precautions required for players at increased risk (co-morbidity)”.
On Wednesday, there will be a meeting between players, the Premier League, medical staff and the PFA.
Government approval will need to be granted before teams can continue to the next stage of training, when contact would be permitted.
‘I wouldn’t feel comfortable watching football with current risk’
Troy Townsend, from equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out and father of Crystal Palace and England winger Andros Townsend, says he understands players’ concerns over the risk a return to action in the near future could represent to not only themselves but also their families.
Townsend told BBC Sport: “I love watching my son play football, I love watching his team play and I love every aspect of what football brings, but these are uncertain times and ultimately I don’t want to be watching him with worry right across my face.
“I don’t think I could watch the game comfortably any more if we do go back anytime soon because you are worried about what he is walking away from and what he may be opening his family up to too.
“If I am concerned about that it has to be a worry for any parent or any person connected to a player that may have to put themselves in that situation, which is a situation of worry.”
Townsend is also concerned by the increased risk the virus appears to pose to people who are from Bame backgrounds, and says he would reluctantly accept cancelling the season if player safety cannot be assured.
He added: “Unfortunately we have seen some stats come out where it seems more people from the black and minority ethnic communities have been affected by the virus, which puts another worry mark on the lines on my head.
“I just cannot visualise watching players out on a football pitch and particularly my own son while this uncertainty continues, I cannot see it.
“If that means we have to shut up shop – null and void – then unfortunately I would rather that than put people at risk or lose lives unnecessarily.”
What happens next?
- Wednesday, 13 May: Professional Footballers’ Association/League Managers’ Association consult members on medical protocols
- Thursday, 14 May: Meetings between Premier League and PFA/LMA about medical protocols
- Thursday, 14 May: Meeting between Culture Secretary and football authorities
- Monday, 18 May: Next Premier League meeting
- Monday, 18 May: Premier League players may return to initial group training under socially distancing protocols
- 25 May: Uefa deadline for leagues to have finalised plan for restarting seasons
- 1 June: Government date for possible return of elite sport behind closed doors in England
- 12 June: Premier League aiming to return with first fixture