Con­tentious pitch: Di­vi­sions sur­fac­ing over EPL’s plan

Orlando Sentinel - - Enewspaper Bonus Coverage - By Rob Har­ris

English Premier League clubs op­posed to re­sum­ing the sea­son in empty, neu­tral sta­di­ums were urged by the Crys­tal Palace chair­man on Sun­day to ac­cept the plans or the “game might never fully re­cover.”

Steve Par­ish warned there could be years of le­gal chal­lenges if the Premier League is cur­tailed, with French clubs al­ready ex­plor­ing dam­ages claims over their sea­son pre­ma­turely end­ing last week.

A lead­ing sports lawyer also raised the prospect of play­ers re­fus­ing to take to the field if they feel un­safe play­ing as the coron­avirus pan­demic con­tin­ues.

Par­ish’s sup­port for the league’s “Pro­ject Restart” pro­posal came as Brighton and West Ham pub­licly re­sisted play­ing their re­main­ing home games in neu­tral venues as they fight rel­e­ga­tion.

The league is work­ing with au­thor­i­ties to find a way for play­ers to re­sume group train­ing and play games by June at the ear­li­est while en­sur­ing that does not spread COVID-19 in­fec­tions.

“We need to try to play if we can make it safe,” Par­ish tweeted. “I be­lieve we can and should con­tinue how­ever im­per­fect the other el­e­ments: neu­tral venues empty sta­dia, etc. If we can’t make it work then I fear for next sea­son. The game might never fully re­cover.”

Govern­ment rul­ings led to the French and Dutch league sea­sons end­ing last week. While Paris Saint-Ger­main was crowned French cham­pion with 10 rounds of games re­main­ing, Ajax — which was first on goal dif­fer­ence — will not be awarded the Dutch ti­tle.

Palace has lit­tle to play for, sit­ting midtable, but Par­ish said he wants the sea­son com­pleted for “rea­sons of sport­ing in­tegrity” and to pro­tect the league’s fi­nances. Liver­pool is 25 points clear with nine games re­main­ing.

“I want to crown Liver­pool cham­pi­ons and give ev­ery other club a fair crack at the best league po­si­tion they can achieve,” Par­ish said. “I cer­tainly don’t want to have dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions about cur­tail­ing, void­ing and points per game.

“The ram­i­fi­ca­tions of each are com­plex and could in­volve le­gal chal­lenges that run on for months, if not years. But, yes, it is partly about the money. And we should all care about the money.”

The Premier League fears losses of more than $1.3 bil­lion from an in­com­plete cam­paign as broad­cast­ing com­mit­ments are not met.

The league has not com­mented on op­po­si­tion to play­ing games in neu­tral sta­di­ums, only say­ing af­ter Fri­day’s call with clubs that they all wanted to com­plete the sea­son if it was safe.

“End­ing the sea­son early would un­doubt­edly leave the Premier League more ex­posed to costly and rep­u­ta­tion­ally dam­ag­ing le­gal ac­tion from cer­tain dis­grun­tled clubs, un­happy with the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions that would ul­ti­mately fol­low in de­ter­min­ing league po­si­tions,” lawyer Si­mon Leaf, head of sport at Mish­con de Reya, told The AP.

“Af­ter all, a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the rev­enues that the clubs re­ceive from broad­cast­ers and spon­sors is re­lated to where the club fin­ishes in the ta­ble.”

Play­ers would have to face reg­u­lar COVID-19 tests to show they were clear of the dis­ease.

“We could still see play­ers them­selves take their own le­gal stand by re­fus­ing to take the field for fear of their own safety and clubs un­happy with the venue al­lo­ca­tions threaten ac­tion,” Leaf said.

It is al­most two months since the com­pe­ti­tion was sus­pended and the league’s rule book has no guide­lines for re­solv­ing stand­ings if a team can­not play all 38 games.

“The league will need to con­tinue to man­age the sit­u­a­tion del­i­cately in or­der to keep all sides on board and avoid league places and rev­enues be­ing de­ter­mined in the court­room rather than on the pitch,” Leaf said.

The na­tional lock­down re­mains in place through at least Thurs­day in Bri­tain where more than 28,000 peo­ple have died in around two months in hos­pi­tals, care homes and the wider com­mu­nity af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive for the new coron­avirus.

The Premier League faced heavy crit­i­cism Sun­day from one of the main pun­dits for the broad­caster that pro­vides the league’s sin­gle big­gest rev­enue stream.

Gary Neville, the for­mer Eng­land and Manch­ester United de­fender turned Sky Sports com­men­ta­tor, said the Premier League was hav­ing a “night­mare” and was “hid­ing, scared to death of com­mu­ni­cat­ing” its plans fully in pub­lic.

“No one wants to be re­spon­si­ble for this one! Just in case the un­think­able hap­pens,” Neville tweeted. “I’d re­spect them more if they said ‘We ac­cept the in­crease in Health Risk but it’s one we are will­ing to take.’ They won’t as they are fright­ened to death!”

Some Premier League play­ers re­turned to club train­ing fa­cil­i­ties last week to re­sume in­di­vid­ual work. Play­ers in Spain and Italy will be al­lowed to do the same from Mon­day.

While the leagues in Eng­land, Italy and Spain will not start un­til at least June, the Ger­man top flight is hop­ing to re­sume this month.

But the Bun­desliga’s plans were un­set­tled by three pos­i­tive tests for coron­avirus last week at Cologne, re­port­edly in­clud­ing two play­ers.

Cologne said Sun­day that play­ers will only re­sume train­ing af­ter two con­sec­u­tive neg­a­tive COVID-19 tests, rul­ing out the need for the en­tire squad and coach­ing staff to go into quar­an­tine.

“We need to try to play if we can make it safe. I be­lieve we can and should con­tinue how­ever im­per­fect the other el­e­ments: neu­tral venues empty sta­dia, etc. If we can’t make it work then I fear for next sea­son. The game might never fully re­cover.”

— Crys­tal Palace Chair­man Steve Par­ish

PAUL EL­LIS/GETTY-AFP

Eti­had Sta­dium, home to English Premier League power Manch­ester City, may serve as a neu­tral site for matches if the sea­son re­sumes.

RUI VIEIRA/AP

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