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Premier League medical chief does not expect fans in stadiums for 6-12 months at least

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The new reality

Chelsea FC v Lille OSC: Group H - UEFA Champions League Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Even as the debates continue to rage over the Premier League’s Project Restart — logistical, financial, contractual, personal, you name it they’ve got it issues — the harsh reality that we all should be clocking onto by now is that the coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon. Even if lockdown measures are starting to ease all around the world, we’re not out of the woods — far from it.

We only have to look towards China, where a flare-up of a few dozen cases in the northeast of the country has caused a lockdown of over 100 million people as the local government try their utmost to prevent the inevitable second wave.

Because make no mistake, the second wave, like Thanos, is inevitable and our proverbial Iron Man, the vaccine isn’t here yet and won’t be for a while (some promise over the weekend in that regard, but still at least a year away).

In the meantime, we have to figure out how to live in our new reality, now featuring the added risk of COVID-19 infections, without shutting down society and the economy as we had tried in the last two months.

Part of that compromise will be the return of professional sports — there’s simply too much money at stake for that to not happen, and not just in football — but as we’re seeing in Germany, those sports will be quite different than we have been used to. The Bundesliga’s echoing stadiums and (mostly) socially distanced goal-celebrations this weekend were glimpses into our future, and the sooner we make our peace with that, the sooner we can begin to function in our new reality.

No, it won’t be the same. Life isn’t the same.

And it won’t be for a while, as the Premier League’s medical chief alluded to yesterday.

“I’ve been lucky enough to sit on the [Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport] group with a very high level of medical input from Public Health England and the Chief Medical Officers department. They’ve made it very clear that the social situation, the public health situation is not going to change over the next six to 12 months.

“Regardless of the timing of this type of conversation we’re going to be looking to make the same kind of cultural changes at training grounds and in footballers’ behaviours whether we have this conversation now or at any point this year. It is important that people understand that.”

[...]

“We cannot de-risk the entire thing. But I think what we have created is an extremely safe environment. Hopefully we have reassured all players and managers on that basis.”

-Dr. Mark Gillett; PL medical chief; source: Goal

Gillett’s comments echo similar thoughts from the Bundesliga medical chief from a few weeks ago. That doesn’t necessarily make them foolproof or make whatever they’re advocating the only possible solution — this is literally an unprecedented situation, after all — but it sure seems to be the most reasonably feasible way forward.

Sports without fans is not sports. Sports without fans is the new sports. Sports in the age of COVID-19 is frequent testing and quarantining and hopefully not spreading — whether that’s now, or next month, or next year.

This is our reality, and we cannot substitute our own wishful one.