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Coronavirus crisis: What options does the Premier League have?

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ByAlexander Netherton
13/03/2020 at 08:55 | Updated 13/03/2020 at 10:53

Following Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi testing positive for the coronavirus what are the options open to the Premier League?

There are a number of options being considered by the footballing authorities:

Continue to play games in front of crowds

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One path would be to stick to current government advice, that it is not yet needed to cancel any sporting events, and allow the games to go ahead with full attendance and participation, just as the Cheltenham festival went ahead this week without much more than some extra hand sanitiser.

Play on without fans

Another would be to follow the example of last night's Europa League game between LASK and Manchester United. The game went ahead, but save for officials and essential staff, there was no presence in the stadium. Playing behind closed doors has been used in Serie A, for example, before the country enforced severe restrictions. However, Italian football players' representative Damiano Tommasi was at the heart of a campaign to have football suspended entirely.

That came as the country moved into lockdown, and with increasing reports of players contracting the virus themselves. Now that Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi have tested positive, the quarantine of three Leicester City players, and the likelihood of other as yet undetected infections across the Premier League, playing without fans would only offer some protection.

Callum Hudson-Odoi

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The idea that games could be watched on television has led to some criticism, as without further restrictions fans could assemble outside games or crowd into pubs, further exposing themselves to potential infection.

Suspend the league to restart later

Of course, the option that appears almost inevitable now is that the league will have to be suspended, perhaps indefinitely. The league could restart after a pause to take control of the outbreak, but there is no certainty when that coud be. This could happen most easily if Euro 2020 is rescheduled for a later date, to allow domestic and continental competitions to be completed.

Call it off entirely

However, some clubs are calling for the league to be annulled completely. Cynically speaking, that would benefit clubs that are currently in danger of relegation, and there could be a temptation for some clubs already in the top four to call the whole thing off to make sure they are in the Champions League for next season. That would come as a huge blow to Liverpool though, who have waited three decades to lift the Premier League trophy. Another matter to consider is that as the outbreak is still at its early stages, with some estimating that the peak of the crisis will be in 10 to 14 weeks in the UK, is that it may not be considered fair to make clubs play if they have players who are unavailable due to illness, or worse. As clubs could be heavily affected at different points over the year, it may not be possible to ensure the integrity of the competition.

There is no guarantee that there will be sufficient support staff to let games go ahead. In one of the worst case scenarios anticipated, if the NHS is overwhelmed and millions are at risk, then it would be difficult to envision even an approximate restart date.

The Independent reports that a suspension of the tournament for a month is the consensus option, and that should allow time for the league to be completed. However, that assumes that the country will be able to restart with either fully functioning or sufficient infrastructure. Given the Chinese Super League remains suspended from the start of the year, that could prove to be too optimstic a timeframe.

Give Liverpool the trophy and enforce relegation standings

A final option would be to cancel the rest of the league, but enforce the current standings as if the league had been completed. Other leagues have considered allowing promotion into leagues, but not sending down clubs currently below the cut-off point. Similarly, Liverpool might be awarded the league trophy, which would hardly be an unreasonable move given the near certainty they would win if the league were to continue for even a couple more weeks.

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