Coronavirus: Premier League clubs vote to return to small group training

Omnisport

Premier League clubs have unanimously voted to return to training in small groups on Tuesday – marking a significant step in the efforts of England's top flight to return to action amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite reports of conflicts of interest among the 20 teams on various aspects of the so called "Project Restart" a consensus was reached on Monday with regards to the first phase of resuming action.

Players will have to maintain social distancing during training sessions in small groups, while contact work is not yet allowed.

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"Premier League Shareholders today voted unanimously to return to small group training from tomorrow [Tuesday] afternoon – the first step towards restarting the Premier League, when safe to do so," a statement read.

"Step One of the Return to Training Protocol enables squads to train while maintaining social distancing. Contact training is not yet permitted.

"This first stage has been agreed in consultation with players, managers, Premier League club doctors, independent experts and the government. Strict medical protocols of the highest standard will ensure everyone returns to training in the safest environment possible.

"The health and wellbeing of all participants is the Premier League's priority, and the safe return to training is a step-by-step process. Full consultation will now continue with players, managers, clubs, the PFA [Professional Footballers' Association] and LMA [League Managers' Association] as protocols for full-contact training are developed."

The Premier League's statement did not explicitly say that players and staff had been tested for COVID-19 as part of the medical protocols.

However, a release issued concurrently by Newcastle United suggested this was indeed part of the proposals.

"Players, coaches and essential support staff have now been tested for COVID-19 at the training ground in conjunction with the Premier League by global genomics health business Prenetics," it read.

No Premier League matches have taken place since Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus in mid-March, with the vast majority of major European leagues entering lockdown around the same time.

The Bundesliga was the first elite domestic competition on the continent to return this weekend, with all matches being played behind closed doors.

However, a number of factors – from the considerably higher COVID-19 death toll and greater number of infections in the UK when compared to Germany, to disquiet in some quarters over plans for games to be staged at neutral venues – mean the Premier League's reported target of a June 12 return still looks tough to achieve.

In a webchat with United States star Megan Rapinoe on his YouTube channel on Sunday, Manchester City and England winger Raheem Sterling cautioned that players should not be made to rush back into action without adequate preparation.

"You can't come back in [playing matches] with one-and-a-half weeks, two weeks [of training]," he said.

"You need a full four or five weeks, especially if you're going back into competition, you're not playing friendlies, when you're literally paid to win and it's going to count for something.

"You do need that preparation, definitely, you can't just go straight back into it."

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