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15th May 2020

Is it safe or ethical to bring football back?

Wayne Farry

Will it really ‘lift the spirits of the nation’?

The government has given the green light for sport to return in the UK behind closed doors from June 1 onwards. This week Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that resuming the Premier League will “lift the spirits of the nation”.

There has been no professional football played in the UK since March 11 – when Liverpool hosted Atletico Madrid. The following day Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for Covid-19 before the FA swiftly announced that football would be suspended until April 3 at the earliest.

In recent weeks, the Premier League has been hard at work on “Project Restart”, a plan to bring back top flight football.

But among the discussion to bring back football there appears to have been little consideration for what the players want themselves.

Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero was one of the first to speak out, suggesting players with families were scared to play while safety concerns remain.

The strongest line however has come from Newcastle United defender Danny Rose, who criticised Dominic Raab’s comments during an Instagram Live.

Lifting the spirit of the nation is one thing, but can football – as popular as it may be – achieve that in a country which has seen more than 30,000 Covid-19 related deaths? Recent polling suggests otherwise.

A YouGov survey of more than 2,000 adults on 11 May found that just 19% of the public agree that football’s return would boost morale. Almost three-quarters of people surveyed disagreed with Dominic Raab’s suggestion.

But Project Restart also creates a moral dilemma for the government and the Premier League.

In Germany, plans to restart the Bundesliga have been contentious, but the requirement of 20,000 test kits for players and staff is believed to be a manageable amount given the country’s testing capacity as a whole.

But in the UK, which has seen 26,000 more deaths from Covid-19, testing remains consistently below the government’s own daily targets.

And while frontline staff must wait between 48 and 72 hours for their test results, Premier League players will reportedly receive their results within 24 hours.

The Premier League has earmarked a return date of June 12th for the return of football – but how it can be done safely and ethically remains a question unanswered.

And with the UK still experiencing hundreds of Covid-19 related deaths every day, the question must be asked: is football really a necessary distraction for society, or a convenient one for the government?