Premier League clubs have voted unanimously to approve a return to contact training, in another significant step towards the resumption of matches “when safe to do so”.Players had already resumed training last week in small groups while respecting social distancing measures, according to step one of the return to training protocols.Several players, including Watford captain Troy Deeney and Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante, are not taking part in phase one of the return to training protocols because of concerns about coronavirus.
Earlier this week, the UK government released its phase 2 guidelines for athletes and elite sportsmen and women to make a phased return to close-contact and competitive training, provided individual sports “have the appropriate carefully controlled medical conditions in place”.The official advice, aimed at helping competitors reach fitness levels required for matches, says close-contact training for elite athletes can include coaching and tackling in team sports within a two-metre distance, in groups of up to 12 players.The Premier League discussed the updated government advice on contact training with club captains, managers and representatives from the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and the League Managers Association (LMA) on conference calls on Tuesday afternoon.It is understood no significant issues were raised during those calls, with one source describing the calls as “completely different to last week’s call when several players expressed serious concerns about a return to football”.
Players were told that the Premier League and the government have committed to further research into the risk to those from BAME backgrounds compared to other groups.
Why a return to contact training is so important
The significance of contact training is that it’s the single biggest step towards the resumption of matches.Throughout the pandemic there have been concerns raised about the risks associated with training and what it takes for coronavirus to be transmitted on the pitch.But there has been cautious optimism from the first two rounds of testing after more than 99.5 per cent of results came back negative. There have been eight positive results, including at least two players, out of nearly 1,750 tests, so coronavirus is not widespread in clubs at the moment, at least not among those players and staff that have been tested.If there is no spike in positive tests, with fewer negative results over more tests, it will give the authorities, and clubs, the confidence that it will be safe to resume competitive games next month.