The UK government has given the Premier League and the Championship the green light to resume contact training after publishing stage two of its return to training guidance.
This is a big boost for the Premier League ‘Project Restart’ plans ahead of a pivotal week of meeting and votes about playing the remaining 92 games of the 2019-20 season.
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Since last week all 20 Premier League clubs have been taking part in small-group training at a social distance as clubs agreed unanimously to return to training as part of stage one of the protocols.
Late Sunday the UK government released guidelines on stage two of training for elite athletes as contact training is now permitted. Per the stage two guidelines, athletes are allowed to ‘opt out’ of training ‘without any resulting discrimination.’
It is not known whether or not players who contract COVID-19 while in stage two of training may have to quarantine for 14 days. That is said to be something which will be discussed in full detail in the coming days in the Premier League meetings, while below is a little more from the UK government explanation on stage two.
- Stage Two training can be described as the resumption of close contact (interaction within the two metre social distancing boundary) training where pairs, small groups and/or teams will be able to interact in much closer contact (e.g. close quarters coaching, combat sports sparring, teams sports tackling, technical equipment sharing, etc).
- The progression of training into Stage Two is vital to prepare fully for the return of competitive sporting fixtures in many sports. Close contact training is required to replicate match formations and conditions, so that the sport-specific demands can be placed on the body, mind and senses. Close contact training develops the sport-specific fitness which is an essential element for player safety and a reduced risk of injury during competition.
- It is anticipated that engaging in this type of training would start with smaller ‘clusters’ of 2-3 athletes and eventually progress to larger groups of 4-12 athletes, and ultimately full team training, without social distancing possible at all times. Under Stage Two conditions, as per Stage One, social distancing will continue to be the expectation at all other times aside from technical training.
Speaking about the stage two guidelines, UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “This new guidance marks the latest phase of a carefully phased return to training process for elite athletes, designed to limit the risk of injury and protect the health and safety of all involved. We are absolutely clear that individual sports must review whether they have the appropriate carefully controlled medical conditions in place before they can proceed, and secure the confidence of athletes, coaches and support staff.
“Given the wide ranging input we have received from medical experts, we believe these pragmatic measures should provide further reassurance that a safe, competitive training environment can be delivered, as we work towards a restart of professional sport behind closed doors when it is safe to do so.”
Premier League clubs, players and managers will meet in the coming days to discuss the protocols in place around a return to contact training and clubs are due to vote on Wednesday whether or not to sanction the move to stage two.
This is a big boost for the Premier League and Championship as both had been waiting to get the green light from the government before their clubs could vote on the plan for a return to contract training.
All 20 Premier League clubs will meet on several video conference calls to discuss the protocols around a return to full-contact training as players, managers and the Premier League will discuss the details with medical experts. Several Premier League stars have revealed their angst about returning to training.
Per the guidelines, moving to stage two provides more risk of COVID-19 infection: “Due to the increased risk of transmission under Stage Two conditions, the COVID-19 officer must have a clear policy for managing a COVID-19 positive individual and abide by Government guidelines and reporting requirements.”
The Premier League confirmed over the weekend that from 1,744 tests on players and staff across the first two rounds of COVID-19 tests, eight positive tests have been recorded with players from both Watford and Bournemouth confirmed to have the virus. Two positive COVID-19 tests had arrived after 1,014 players and staff in the Championship were tested.
Premier League players will again be tested on Monday and Tuesday and the results of those tests will be key in seeing how the strict protocols at training grounds are working.
Now that the UK government has given clear guidance to the Premier League about how it can return to contact training, it is now down to clubs, medical experts, players and managers to all agree on the safest path forward.
There is still a long way to go until games return but this is another step on the path towards the 2019-20 season returning.