News   |    July 21st, 2021

What Next For Football?

Integral Sports Management Chairman Peter Varney shares his thoughts:

In years to come a whole new generation will be familiar with terms like social distancing and self-isolation, in a way that previous generations talked about ration books and gas masks. If the Government and its advisers are right, up to 20,000 are likely to fall victim

to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving thousands more grieving from their loss and remembering this deadly virus for very personal reasons. On a more positive note society has come together in a way it hasn’t before in my lifetime and when 750,000 people volunteer to help the NHS, it gives you a renewed belief in human nature.

Sport has always been a great way of uniting people and 2020 was set to be a spectacle of sport with the European Football Championship’s and Tokyo Olympics at the centre of our national sporting ambitions. Both giving the platform to provide us with new heroes and high levels of achievement. They will take place a year later but as football is a season by season business, sorting out how to conclude the 2019/20 campaign is going to be an immense challenge for football’s administrators.

The reality is that the EFL will have to wait and see what the Premier League decides to do because without knowing that, the EFL can’t make decisions on promotion and relegation from its three divisions. The key issue for Premier League clubs is they have set their budgets for this season and if they don’t receive forecasted income, many will have major funding issues. If Sky and BT are unable to cover the rest of the season, then they could withhold up to £750million from their television contracts. This in itself will mean a solution has to be found to complete the season.

The importance of maintaining social distancing (which is likely to last for some months yet) means there is no way the remaining Premier League matches can be played in front of crowds. It is inevitable that some or all matches will be played behind closed doors. There will still need to be people involved on game day, medical professionals, TV production staff and potentially policing around stadiums, so whether logistically you can still stage a match safely remains a burning question. Of course, injuries are likely to play a part in the outcome of the season as players will have lost their match fitness edge, so expect a spate of muscle injuries while many may well be suffering with the coronavirus themselves.

Teams will naturally want to play their matches at their home stadiums but the more grounds in use, the greater the risk that a player, official or employee will become infected. That leads me to the conclusion that the Premier League should nominate a small number of grounds within a set geographical location where all the matches are played on consecutive days and nights, so the programme is concluded as quickly as possible. No club should be permitted to play a match on their home ground, or we run the risk fans will congregate outside the ground. It will not be the ideal solution for many but then we are not living in ideal times. 

On the date this article was published, the Premier League confirmed no matches will be played in May.

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