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UK begin easing lockdown restrictions, but Premier League must ease internal tensions first

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Must find a workable compromise

Nike Premier League Strike Football Photo by VISIONHAUS

Joining most of the rest of the western world in starting to ease certain lockdown restrictions that have been in place for most of the past two months, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last night the UK government’s latest “conditional” response plan to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan includes putting some people back to work as soon as this week, as well as a slow reopening of schools, hospitality business, and society in general, starting June 1 at the earliest.

While the PM’s address is being criticized for being too vague, too conflicting with previous messaging, and just a bit too forward-looking, it’s advocating for steps not at all dissimilar to ones being taken in other parts of the world. Whether the UK’s ready for those steps is of course a different and perhaps more pertinent issue, but that’s a bit beyond the scope of this here blog. The plan is supposedly rooted in science, as it should be.

The announcement will undoubtedly propel the Premier League’s own restart plans forward as well. The league had delayed their latest crisis meeting from Friday to Monday precisely to be able to react to the announcement. With other leagues pushing forward on restarting — Germany will be playing next weekend, many other Central European nations will follow by the end of the month — the Premier League will certainly want to do so as well.

But unlike in those countries, where the response to the pandemic seems to have been much more unified and clear (though it could be just that we’re not following them as closely), the Premier League seems to have devolved into a rather impressive state of disarray and infighting. Battle lines have been drawn between top teams and bottoms teams, between players and clubs, and the concerns of the money-men versus the concerns of the employees. Some of these divisions have always existed, but the pandemic has put them into stark relief. The public relations battle has been lost a long time ago of course.

Some don’t want to play at all, some don’t want to play right now, and some just want to get their title in hand. The idea of “neutral” venues has given those wanting to avoid relegation something to cling to and use as leverage. Vague and nonsensical ideas of fairness and morality get thrown about with little regard for logic or reason. The media swings wildly from one side to the other, whichever gives the best briefing and the best sensationalist headline. Meanwhile, any real concerns some might have over returning to play too soon, not to mention any real concerns there may be regarding the harsh legal and financial realities of this situation, are being overshadowed by these petty squabbles that, should they carry on too long, could threaten the entire Premier League bubble.

There is of course no possible plan that will satisfy everyone 100 per cent. But a compromise must be found, for the benefit of all. Maybe Monday’s meeting will start us on the path to a reasonable, workable solution?