Premier League matches should only resume if the measures required to ensure players and staff are safe do not impact on the national effort to protect key workers, according to a leading club chief executive.
Paul Barber, CEO and deputy chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion, told Sky News that clubs need to weigh their desire to complete the season against the need to ensure players and staff are safe.
The 20 clubs and Premier League executives will meet virtually today to discuss plans to restart matches in the week of 8 June.
Games would be played behind closed doors under safety protocols that could require hundreds of tests to be carried out on staff and players. Any decision on resuming would depend on government approval.
Mr Barber also acknowledged the perception issues of football being seen to resume in the current climate.
Facilities at the Brighton’s stadium are currently being used as a COVID-19 testing station for NHS staff and key workers.
“With many hundreds of people dying every day it doesn’t seem quite right to be talking about returning to play football.
“Having said that, we also know that people want something to look forward to. They want something hopefully to lift their spirits.
“Getting the balance right between wanting to return to play as quickly as possible, and making sure that it’s safe to do so, is absolutely critical.
“We’ve got to be mindful of the fact that many, many thousands of families, up and down the country, have lost someone in the last few weeks and that’s a very important thing to keep in our mind to make these decisions.
“We’ve also got to be cognisant of the fact that many clubs have turned over their facilities to support the NHS at a critical time. Our club is one of them.
“We’ve got a very active COVID-19 testing centre at the stadium at the moment where we’re seeing hundreds and hundreds of NHS frontline workers and other key workers every single day coming to get tested.
“Against that backdrop, we’ve got to make sure that if we do return to playing football, it’s only when the people that need testing urgently have got their tests and been able to either return to their jobs or recover from the illness at home.
“The one thing we’ve all craved through this whole crisis is clarity and certainty, and that’s obviously what’s been in the shortest supply of all. We want to try and finish our system for competition integrity reasons, but at this stage I think again that the safety of the players, the staff and the people that work around football has to be paramount so we can only take that decision when it’s safe to do so.”
If the season were to be curtailed it would pose a major financial challenge to the club. Five of their remaining nine games are home fixtures, with four of them against Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal – games that would generate significant revenue.
Mr Barber estimates every lost home game would cost the club a seven-figure sum, and warns that the blow would be felt beyond the club.
Brighton’s first season in the Premier League is estimated to have brought a £200m benefit to the local economy.
“It’s a very significant impact, not just on our business, but on our catering partners, the various suppliers, the various organisations in the city that we draw on for our labour, for match days, security companies and so on.
“The wider economy, certainly in this part of the world is being hit just as hard as the football club as a consequence of the matches not going ahead.”