Coronavirus wrap: Greg Clarke fears fans unlikely to return ‘any time soon’

PA Sport Staff
·4-min read

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke fears fans will not be returning to stadiums “any time soon” while in Spain plans to get LaLiga restarted next month moved a step closer.

The Premier League and English Football League both accept that any resumption to their schedules in the immediate future must take place behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is understood top-flight clubs were told on Friday that the remaining matches of the 2019-20 season must be played at neutral venues.

Clarke fears fans will not return
Clarke fears fans will not return “any time soon” (Bradley Collyer/PA)

In a letter to the FA Council, sent on Friday, Clarke said: “The reality is that we just don’t know how things are going to pan out. But with social distancing in place for some time to come we do face substantial changes to the whole football ecosystem.

“For example it’s hard to foresee crowds of fans – who are the lifeblood of the game – returning to matches any time soon.”

Clarke added that the ongoing uncertainty means that the board has agreed a “sensible” £75million budget cut.

He said: “In a worst-case scenario, this would be necessary for the next four years to offset a £300m deficit.”

Spanish football could be back next month as LaLiga announced that players will return to individual training this week following approval from the government.

The plan is for the top tier to resume in June and finish its season in the summer, but the Copa del Rey final between Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad will not take place until it can safely be played in front of a crowd.

In Germany, 10 individuals connected to clubs in the top two divisions have tested positive for coronavirus.

The German Football League (DFL) said 1,724 tests had been conducted on players and staff with 10 people isolated. A second round of testing on all participants will take place this week as clubs build towards a return to team training.

Bundesliga club Schalke back in training
Bundesliga club Schalke back in training (Martin Meissner/AP)

A decision on whether the DFL’s plans to resume the season meet with government approval is expected on Wednesday, with the Bundesliga now not likely to resume until May 16 at the earliest.

Former Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou has been suspended by Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin after he filmed himself flouting social distancing rules on his return to training.

The 34-year-old apologised for his actions, adding: “I didn’t really think it through, and was excited that my tests came back negative”.

Elsewhere, the NFL will not be staging games in London this year as planned. Two matches had been scheduled for Wembley and another two at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

The league – which also had plans to stage a game in Mexico – declared it would “schedule all 2020 games in the United States in order for the entire season to be played in NFL teams’ stadia under consistent protocols focused on the well-being of players, personnel and fans”.

With the Tokyo Olympic Games moved to 2021 because of the pandemic, FINA – swimming’s world governing body – announced next year’s World Aquatics Championships will instead take place from May 13-29, 2022, also in Japan.

The Women’s Tour, the UK’s first international stage cycling race for women which has been held for the last six years, will be rearranged for June 2021.

With the UCI due to announce a revised schedule on Tuesday, SweetSpot Group, organisers of the Women’s Tour, said this year’s event will not go ahead, having initially postponed the race in mid-March.

Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee will hear how several sports have been affected by the health crisis on Tuesday.

EFL chairman Rick Parry, England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison and his Rugby Football Union counterpart Bill Sweeney have all been called to an evidence session along with UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger and Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth.