OPINION: Why the Premier League's 'Project Restart' is flawed
There are ways you can make it work. That is the first thing to be said about Project Restart as the Premier League clubs dial in to debate the matter at today’s video conference.
It is not impossible according to the scientists, who understand the coronavirus better than most. But none of the options are foolproof, they all carry risk and the further from risk they promise to be, the more impractical they are.
But there are ways of making it work, so let’s start there. ‘Everybody would need to be tested to make sure they are Covid-free,’ said Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham. ‘And they would need to be tested over a period of days to make sure they stay Covid-free for the duration of the incubation period.
‘Once you are sure none of those people have Covid, you can isolate them from the rest of society, make sure they don’t come into contact with anybody who has not been tested and make sure anybody new coming into that environment is clean. Then you could keep those players Covid-free for however many days you need.
‘So in theory it’s possible, but whether it’s practical is a different matter. How are you going to achieve it? That’s the question.’
Hotels, empty and losing money, might jump at the chance to do what it takes to provide a football team with a safe environment. But what about the service staff? What about the food coming in?
Neutral stadiums offer the safest solution and yet there is a group of Premier League clubs fiercely against the idea and set to dig in for home and away fixtures on the grounds of integrity.
This then demands more safe stadiums and more safe vehicles and a greater number of people in more places living within football’s quarantined society and thus increases the risks of the virus breaking in. Some grounds are being used by the NHS. How can you kick them out to play football?
‘You could never guarantee preventing Covid-19 getting in,’ said Professor Ball. ‘You can reduce the risks but if you were unfortunate enough to introduce the virus, most people inside will be incredibly fit and may only have mild symptoms and you could have quite an amount of transmission under the radar before you realised what was going on.
‘We are being lulled into a false sense of security because we are seeing fewer deaths than before, but the numbers are still higher than when we saw the sudden increase that led to lockdown.’
The earliest proposed start date for Premier League football behind closed doors is June 8, which is likely to be revised if the Government extend the lockdown measures.
Each day the landscape shifts and today some clubs will articulate their fears of being rushed back too soon.
Any return must come in step with a strict testing system for all those involved in putting on the matches, roughly 350 per game.
‘It’s a logistical challenge but it’s not millions of people,’ said Steve Bates, chief executive of the Bio Industry Association, working with companies on the testing strategy. ‘You could test them every day with private companies. Football has the money and it has the incentive. It would be interesting to see and might help other sectors of society.’
Professor Ball agrees testing on the day of the games might be a more realistic policy than the extreme quarantining.
Then what happens if one player tests positive? Or two? How many positives before a game is called off? Or is that bad luck like an outbreak of food poisoning or flu and they are expected to plough on? Where do clubs stand on insurance if a staff member falls ill on their watch? Where do they stand if players refuse to play? Can they withhold pay? These questions and more will be raised today. No one expects answers.
Meanwhile, few footballers want to be guinea pigs. Some are scared at the prospect of contact sport when it is not safe to have a haircut. They must opt in or there is no show and they have never been more aware of the fact.
They might have pregnant partners or relatives in society’s shielded sectors. Or maybe they cannot face six weeks in a hotel at a time of high anxiety.
Some managers share those concerns. Others are keen to get going again, such as Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder — perhaps not surprisingly as his team are targeting Europe. For others the integrity of this season has been lost. Some clubs will play at Liverpool with Anfield in full voice, others when it is eerily deserted.
So, yes, there are ways to make it work but is it worth the effort? For what? For the money? We are doing it for the money — and taking a risk with people’s health? That is the subtext of today’s meeting.Daily Mail