EPL warns of dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect of de­lay re­open­ing sta­di­ums

Malta Independent - - Sport -

Even the world's rich­est soc­cer league is wor­ried that it can't func­tion as nor­mal much longer with­out fans in the stands.

Af­ter the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment im­posed new pan­demic re­stric­tions on Tues­day, the English Premier League warned of the "dev­as­tat­ing" fi­nan­cial im­pact it could have on clubs as sup­port­ers faced be­ing locked out of games for another six months.

Sports — in­clud­ing football, rugby and horse rac­ing — have asked the gov­ern­ment for fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son halted plans to al­low the phased re­turn of spec­ta­tors into sport­ing venues in Eng­land from Oct. 1 be­cause of a spike in coro­n­avirus cases.

"Football is not the same with­out at­tend­ing fans and the football econ­omy is un­sus­tain­able with­out them," the Premier League said in a state­ment.

"Last sea­son, Premier League clubs suf­fered 700 mil­lion pounds ($897 mil­lion) in losses and at present, our na­tional game is los­ing more than 100 mil­lion pounds ($128 mil­lion) per month. This is start­ing to have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on clubs and their com­mu­ni­ties."

The gov­ern­ment felt com­pelled to re­verse the re­open­ing of so­ci­ety af­ter its top sci­en­tific and med­i­cal ad­vis­ers said new coro­n­avirus cases were dou­bling ev­ery seven days.

In­fec­tions within the squad at Ley­ton Ori­ent led to the fourth­di­vi­sion club's League Cup game against Premier League side Tot­ten­ham be­ing called off on Tues­day. West Ham's game against Hull did go ahead de­spite man­ager David Moyes and play­ers Issa Diop and Josh Cullen be­ing forced to leave the east Lon­don sta­dium and go into self-iso­la­tion af­ter re­ceiv­ing pos­i­tive re­sults ahead of kick­off.

The U.K. on Tues­day recorded 4,926 new virus cases in 24 hours, the high­est daily num­ber since early May and more than four times the fig­ure of a month ago. There were 37 new COVID19 deaths re­ported, up from sin­gle dig­its a few weeks ago when sports started to test the re­turn of fans at test events, al­beit with ca­pac­i­ties re­cently re­stricted at 1,000. The Premier League still hopes the gov­ern­ment will find a way of safely open­ing up sta­di­ums to sup­port­ers again based on pro­to­cols al­ready for­mu­lated.

"Fans in sta­di­ums will be as safe or even safer than at any other pub­lic ac­tiv­ity cur­rently per­mit­ted," the Premier League said.

"This is al­ready ev­i­dent in other Euro­pean leagues. We are con­fi­dent that Premier League clubs, us­ing in­no­va­tive ways to get sup­port­ers safely back into grounds, will en­able rev­enues to re­turn to all lev­els of the game."

Oliver Dow­den, the Bri­tish cabi­net min­is­ter with re­spon­si­bil­ity for sports, met with leagues and gov­ern­ing bod­ies af­ter John­son told the House of Com­mons that the coun­try should re­turn to a nor­mal so­cial or work life for at least six months.

"We agreed to work to­gether to help them through this dif­fi­cult pe­riod," said Dow­den, the cul­ture sec­re­tary, with­out spec­i­fy­ing any spe­cific as­sis­tance for sports. The prob­lem is par­tic­u­larly acute in the English Football League, which features 72 pro­fes­sional teams across three di­vi­sions be­low the Premier League and is heav­ily re­liant on fans buy­ing tickets and drinks at games.

Dale Vince, the chair­man of fourth di­vi­sion club For­est Green, said it was con­tra­dic­tory of the gov­ern­ment to al­low pubs and big shops to re­main open while not al­low­ing fans into reg­u­lated sports sta­di­ums.

For­est Green was al­lowed 1,000 fans on Satur­day for the League Two game against Bradford but now there will be no more pi­lot events for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

"There are al­ways a hand­ful of clubs that are on the edge any­way, ev­ery year," Vince said. "It is a ma­jor ad­di­tional im­pact that many clubs will not be able to with­stand."

Eng­land's sec­ond-big­gest sport is also des­per­ate for sta­di­ums to re­open to spec­ta­tors.

The Rugby Football Union said it will ex­pe­ri­ence a loss of 138 mil­lion pounds in rev­enue if fans aren't al­lowed into Eng­land matches over the next six months for the Au­tumn Na­tions Cup and Six Na­tions tour­na­ments.

"With­out sup­port," RFU chief ex­ec­u­tive Bill Sweeney said in his plea for fi­nan­cial aid, "we are in danger of clubs at the heart of com­mu­ni­ties across Eng­land, as well as play­ers and vol­un­teers, dis­ap­pear­ing for­ever."

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