The English Premier League has been cleared to restart its season June 1, provided certain criteria including no new spikes in coronavirus infection cases have been met.
The government Monday gave the world’s most popular soccer league, and all other professional sports in the United Kingdom, permission to resume next month in a 60-page document titled “Our Plan to Rebuild.” The resumption of sports would happen in Phase 2 of that plan, which permits “cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors … while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact.”
Final approval will be given only if government ministers and health professionals are satisfied it is safe for teams to gather. The league will decide how the season would resume, with one option calling for the use of neutral sites.
The EPL, which suspended its season March 13, is the second of Europe’s five major soccer leagues given government approval to return. Germany’s Bundesliga and the second-tier Bundesliga 2 are scheduled to resume their seasons in empty stadiums this weekend while Spain’s La Liga has set a target restart date of June 12. Spain’s health minister said recently no final decision has been made and it may be later in the summer before games resume.
Teams in Italy’s Serie A have been cleared to resume training May 18 but the league has no date to begin play. The rest of the soccer season in France was canceled by the government two weeks ago, days after the Dutch Eredivisie canceled its season.
UEFA, the governing body for soccer in Europe, has set a May 25 deadline for leagues to outline plans to either restart or abandon the rest of the 2019-20 season.
Some MLS teams in the U.S. and Canada returned to limited training in the last week but there is no date for play to resume.
The EPL’s return would allow it to recoup some of the $1.5 billion — much of its broadcasting fees — estimated to be at stake if the season were halted with 92 games to play. But even with government approval, a resumption in play is not assured since not all clubs are in favor of returning. That support was cast in question over the weekend when a Brighton player tested positive for the coronavirus. The votes of 14 of the league’s top 20 teams are needed to affirm any decision.
The resumption of matches is dependent on five tests, the government said, including a “sustained and consistent fall” in the daily death rate in the U.K. and an infection rate that falls to “manageable levels.”
EPL teams have returned to their respective training grounds while observing government-mandated social-distancing guidelines. Once-beaten Liverpool (27-1-1) leads second-place Manchester City (18-7-3) by 25 points atop the table, meaning it needs six points in nine games to clinch its first-ever EPL title. Liverpool is also on pace to set league records for points and wins.
At the bottom of the table last-place Norwich seems destined for relegation. Two other clubs will also be relegated with five teams separated by just four points in the race to avoid that fate.