LONDON: Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has said curtailing the 2019-20 season was discussed by top-flight clubs for the first time at their shareholders’ meeting.
He also revealed there is an “ongoing dialogue” with the Government and other authorities about finishing the Premier League season at neutral grounds, as it was reported that the league would ask again to be able to finish the campaign on a home-and-away basis.
The Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy document sets out the possibility for professional sport to return behind closed doors no earlier than June 1, and while the Premier League remains committed to restart, Masters said the idea of curtailment was raised.
He said: “It was the first time we discussed curtailment – it’s still our aim to finish the season obviously but it’s important to discuss all the options with our clubs.
“The contents of that discussion have to remain confidential. What I can say is that all of the talk was about finishing the season. No conclusions were reached on any other models. Those are future conversations we may need to have.”
It is understood clubs were told at a shareholders’ meeting on May 1 that the only way to complete the season in a way which satisfied both the Government and the police was to play at eight to 10 ‘approved’ neutral venues.
This has been met with opposition from a number of clubs, including Brighton, Aston Villa and Watford.
Deputy chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, Mark Roberts, who is the national football policing lead, said clubs arguing over the fairest way to finish the season needed to “get a grip” in a situation where thousands of people have died from the virus, and thousands more severely affected.
However, Masters suggested the matter was not completely closed and that dialogue would continue between the clubs, and between the leagues and the authorities. It has been reported that clubs urged the league to ask the Government to reconsider the neutral grounds stance.
“I think everybody would prefer to play home and away if at all possible. And I think it’s clear to see that some clubs feel more strongly about that than others.
“It is an ongoing dialogue and obviously since Covid-19 became an issue we’ve been talking to the authorities about the conditions in which we could get the Premier League back up and running and taking all that advice on board.
“But it is an ongoing dialogue. There is not much I can say about that, other than we are in contact with the authorities and listening to that advice while also representing club views in those discussions.”
The Government’s recovery strategy mentioned the need to avoid the risk of “large-scale social contact” when the competition does resume behind closed doors.
Masters said the hope was for the league to resume “in the middle of June” but that work was still required to finalise the return-to-training protocols, not least the buy-in of players and managers.
“We have protocols created and reviewed, we have a testing company appointed, but the important consultation with players and managers is the next step, nothing has been agreed and nothing will be agreed until we have spoken to both the managers and the players,” he said.
Masters also said a league position had been reached on the issue of player contracts. Standard deals expire on June 30, but the competition will now run on past this date.
“What was agreed today is that players can extend their contracts beyond June 30 until the end of the season but it must be agreed by both parties and a later date can be scheduled for that; no later than June 23,” Masters said.