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PFA deputy chief urging football to find a solution to help nation’s morale, impossible as it may be

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Whatever it takes

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Chelsea Training Session - Cobham Training Ground Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Euro 2020 is now Euro 2021. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are now the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Many economies have ground to a halt. Football remains on hiatus, as this ultra-connected world of ours tries to isolate itself from each other in the real world and stop, or at least delay the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In these dark times, we are left without many of our usual distractions. Restaurants, bars, and pubs are closed — or are takeaway only. Gyms are locked and public spaces are urged to be kept uncrowded. And while there are plenty of things to binge, there’s absolutely no football to watch on television — or sports, even, unless you count the growing popularity of eSports leagues and events.

So as much as it may be incongruent with current times and protocols, getting football back on the menu may be a good, perhaps even necessary thing. Football, after all, is the most important of all the unimportant things in life, as Arrigo Sacchi once famously quipped.

And that’s one of the driving motivators behind the current work of the PFA and the administrators in charge of the beautiful game in England, as PFA deputy chief Bobby Barnes told The Athletic this weekend.

“[Sport has a] responsibility … to entertain and sustain the nation. We vastly inflate the importance of football but without doubt, it is very much part of the national consciousness and part of the nation’s morale. I think lots of the general public are hoping to get some football back as soon as possible, whether it be on television screens or stadiums.”

-Bobby Barnes; source: The Athletic

That may sound idealistic and naïve, which wouldn’t be surprising given the rest of the UK’s response to COVID-19, but Barnes is quite realistic in acknowledging that there are many significant factors at play here and that there are just as many, if not more arguments against playing than there are in favor of playing. Many of those arguments against are laid out in a report from the Mirror today, so let’s try to sum things up.

It is commonly accepted that even if we are able to resume, the league would be played out behind closed doors. This isn’t necessarily a problem for the Premier League, where most of the money comes form TV rights and commercial deals, but is a massive problem for the lower leagues, where most of the money comes from stadium gate. It’s unclear how a unilateral resolution can be reached in this regard — The FA, the PL, and the EFL have been insisting on a unified response thus far. Barnes says the players “get it” and see that there is no alternative, but the Mirror’s report claims quite the opposite, with players from the lower league apparently voicing their concerns to the PFA and “ready to revolt” to oppose any such move.

PFA chief Gordon Taylor is understanding, but like Barnes, says there may be no other alternative.

“Players do have concerns and understandably so. It would not be our preferred option but everything has to be considered at the moment.”

-Gordon Taylor; source: Mirror

But of course there is an alternative, and it is to not to play. With players (rightly) concerned about social distancing (what happens if another player tests positive?), quarantine measures (would all players be tested before each game?), the effect it would have on their families (would the take home the virus; would they be isolated from their own families?), not to mention the effect it would have on emergency services and personnel who are very much needed elsewhere and not standing pitchside, there are more than enough valid concerns about any plan to resume playing.

As we know however, money speaks, especially in the Premier League, and there are many monies looking to say many money things if this season cannot be finished in due course.

“Quite frankly, if we’re going to get the season finished in a timely fashion so that we can even consider starting next season, we’ve got to be open to all options.

“If it means playing behind closed doors has to happen in order that contracts are protected, fixtures fulfilled and commercial deals honoured, then I think we’ve all got to come together and accept we’ve all got to make sacrifices to try and find a solution for the industry as a whole.”

-Bobby Barnes; source: The Athletic

The Premier League’s current hope is to start playing in June, which is a little over two months from now. The situation could be vastly different by then than it is now, and if we look towards Asia, we do see some of the places that were affected first indeed return to some semblance of normalcy after a couple months. But the western response has been far slower, and that could drastically alter and extend that timeline.

So we wait, and hope.