Coronavirus and sport: Meetings due to take place to discuss restart

Liverpool's Anfield stadium
Top level football is on hold indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic

The government plans to set up the first of a series of regular meetings involving senior medical directors of the major sports this week in a bid to return to action as soon as possible.

The move was described by a source close to the plans as a "quickening of the pace" and intended to help sport resume "within weeks", if progress was made.

The Chief Medical Officer's staff would also be involved in the weekly meetings, and the Prime Minister has been briefed on the plan.

The specifics of each sport would be examined by health experts to see what protocols would be needed to get each up and running as soon as possible, meaning some would return sooner than others.

Testing, social distancing, hygiene standards and strict limits on the numbers of people allowed in venues would all be debated.

It comes just days after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told MPs that he had been having "productive talks" with governing bodies from across British sport on restarting following the coronavirus shutdown.

However, a return to action still depends on the government's five criteria being met, especially an increase in testing, and meeting social distancing guidelines.

Sport at all levels is on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic which has claimed the lives of more than 19,000 people in the UK.

  • The Premier League, Women's Super League and English football leagues have suspended the 2019-20 season indefinitely, while the lower-league season in Scotland has ended.
  • Cricket in England and Wales remains suspended until 1 July.
  • The first nine races of the Formula 1 season have been called off with the British Grand Prix scheduled to take place in July.
  • The London Marathon, which had been set to take place this weekend, has been rescheduled for October.
  • Rugby union's Premiership clubs are working towards a best-case scenario of returning to action on the weekend of 3-5 July.
  • Golf's Open Championship, which had been set to take place in Kent in July, has been cancelled with the three other men's majors rescheduled.

The meetings are viewed as preparatory, and intended to avoid a further delay to seasons being resumed once approval is granted, rather than a sign that it was imminent. Indeed, there is an acceptance that the plans being put in place may not end up being implemented for months if progress elsewhere is not made.

Government officials have accepted that at this stage, sport would only be able to take place behind closed doors.

But there is a recognition that it may provide many people with a much-needed boost to morale after months of lockdown.

Officials are known to be nervous however about the prospect of fans congregating in large numbers outside stadia to celebrate if titles for instance are confirmed.

Dowden said this week that the Premier League was considering making some behind-closed-doors fixtures available free-to-air when the season restarts.

But officials are said to be mindful of commercial contracts with broadcasters Sky and BT, and recognise the importance of the revenue they generate to the sport more widely.

The Premier League holds its next meeting on Friday.

'Suitable testing' needed before return, says EFL

The English Football League has said it "welcomes the current steps being taken" by the government and that a return to playing could only come about "through a continued collaborative approach".

The EFL has previously said it hopes to complete the season in 56 days but that it was assumed matches would be played behind closed doors.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the organisation - which oversees the Championship, League One and League Two - added that "suitable testing arrangements" must be in place before football in England can resume.

"The position of the EFL remains unchanged in that the priority is to resume the 2019-20 season as soon as it is possible with matches only returning at an appropriate point and based on guidance from the relevant authorities," said the statement.