May 1, 2020 / 5:36 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Soccer-Clubs told neutral venues only for any Premier League return

* Clubs will not be allowed to use own stadiums for any fixtures

* League awaiting any government decision next week on lockdown

* Plans for possible resumption of training later in May discussed (Adds detail, releads)

By Simon Evans

MANCHESTER, England, May 1 (Reuters) - Premier League clubs have been told they cannot use their own stadiums for any resumption of games this season with only “approved neutral venues” to host remaining fixtures in a campaign currently on hold due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

The league, which has been suspended since March 9, remains in limbo, unable to take any steps, until any government decision next week on possible changes to lockdown restrictions.

But on Friday all 20 clubs held a conference call in which they looked at plans for a resumption of training later in May followed by a possible return to competitive action in June.

During the meeting clubs were informed that an eventual resumption of matches would see them played only at neutral venues which has been approved from a health and safety point of view, a source familiar with the discussion told Reuters.

The league has also held talks with club medical staff and other medical experts about how restricted team training might be able to return later this month, if the government allows professional sport to resume.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to set out next week a “menu of options” on how restrictions could be eased, but said the exact dates of any change would be driven by scientific advice.

The government had originally set May 7 as the day they would review lockdown restrictions.

The Premier League clubs plan to meet again as soon as possible after any government announcement on the lockdown.

SAFE RETURN

While there has been no indication from the government on next week’s outcome, the cabinet minister responsible for sport, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, on Friday held the first formal meeting of a cross-sports body set up to examine the practicalities of resuming professional sport.

“I know (Britons) desperately want sport back on,” Dowden wrote on twitter. “We just kicked off the first of many detailed meetings to plan for a safe return of elite sport behind closed doors when, and only when, it is safe to do so on the basis of expert medical advice. Lots to consider, but today we step up planning,” he said.

The Premier League said it “welcomed the government’s support”.

English cricket’s governing body, the ECB, has been charged with leading the planning effort for all sports and is looking at ways to play sport behind closed-doors in ‘bio-secure’ venues.

A spokesperson for the Departure of Culture Media and Sports said: “We held an initial, constructive meeting with medical representatives from a number of professional and elite sports bodies, government and PHE (Public Health England) to step up planning on what may need to be done so that athletes could return to training, when it is deemed safe to do so.

“This would be ahead of any return to competitive top-level sport which would only happen when medical experts advise that this can be done safely. Discussions with the sports bodies will continue on this.”

While no decisions were taken in the Premier League meeting, clubs reviewed plans for resuming training which will initially be restricted to small groups of players with no use of indoor facilities.

Clubs would also have to disinfect equipment and training facilities after each training session and the numbers of staff present on the training ground would also be limited.

The league said in a statement that it would consult on any plans with players and team managers.

“It was agreed that the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association), LMA (League Managers Association), players and managers are key to this process and will be further consulted,” the league said. (Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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