In the grand scheme of things, football doesn’t matter. As the Coronavirus sweeps the globe, taking thousands of lives, when and how Crystal Palace vs. Burnley will be played shouldn’t matter to anyone. Yet before this pandemic is over, sport will play a huge part in lifting the world’s collective spirit. That is why the Premier League season has to resume behind closed doors.
As the future of the 2019/20 season hangs in the balance, there are multiple options for how it could conclude and none of them are without their flaws.
One school of thought lies in favour of abandoning and resetting the season, though you’d imagine supporters of that outcome are either fans of relegation-threatened clubs or those who would find it particularly amusing if Liverpool had their first Premier League title snatched from just under their noses.
As far as solutions go, it would be hugely problematic and could result in a unprecedented volume of litigation from clubs with realistic hopes of European qualification or promotion who would miss out on huge financial dividends as a result. This isn’t to mention just how unfair it would be on those Liverpool fans who have watched their club deservedly edge within points of finally getting their name on the Premier League trophy.
With Manchester City’s provisional suspension from Europe still looming, you’d have to say that anyone down to Everton in 12th place still has a possibility of catching Manchester United in fifth if they were able to finish the season like a runaway train. So there are plenty of clubs who would object to this outcome.
Another option would be to finish the season by extrapolating the number of points each team has earnt so far over the remaining games to produce a final points total as if the season had been concluded. Again, this is a solution that could open the door to a huge amount of legal issues.
It is an approach that wouldn’t factor in the difficulty of the remaining fixtures, as well as those played so far. If you’ve already played most of the big six and were looking forward to a relaxed run in, whereas the team above you still have difficult fixtures, you would understandably assume that your team would amass more points in those final fixtures. With millions of pounds in prize money at stake for each position higher up the table, every point and place matters. Especially if it makes the difference between finishing 17th and 18th.
Naturally the Premier League don’t want the 2020/21 season to be disrupted if possible. However, finishing an active season with multiple open narratives rather than worrying about one which hasn’t started yet surely must be the priority. Whether football resumes in May, June or beyond, the Premier League must finish this season and it needs to happen behind closed doors.
This is for two reasons, the first being public health and safety. Currently we have been instructed to self-isolate until the government and NHS can get the Coronavirus under control. This will take weeks, maybe months, but when it has eventually receded to manageable levels, it seems unlikely that Boris will click his fingers and normal life will suddenly resume.
It is far more likely is that, just as the country was gradually locked down one step at a time, the same will happen in reverse to try and prevent a second outbreak from occurring. This would mean that we are unlikely to see mass gatherings such as sporting events and concerts occurring until it completely safe to do so.
The notion of the government suddenly allowing 54,000 people back into Anfield to celebrate Liverpool winning the league is extremely fanciful, especially in light of reports of many cases being traced back to English football stadiums. This means that, if we are going to witness a definitive end to this season, it will have to be behind closed doors.
There is still plenty of opposition to the idea from those who feel that, without fans, what is the point of playing? Well the simple answer is that televised football behind closed doors is surely preferable to no football at all. Just ask those Liverpool fans who are on the cusp of the title whether they’d rather the title in an empty stadium or the season to be reset.
At a time when tens of millions are going stir crazy at home, torturing themselves by watching a seemingly endless succession of grim news reports, how much of a boost would it be to suddenly have the Premier League to watch and discuss? The mere escapism of it would provide a huge uplift in the nation’s mood.
Concerns have also been raised about the potential of fans congregating outside stadiums, as was the case when PSG played their Champions League match behind closed doors. There is a potential solution for that, however, by playing the games at neutral venues. The location could even be kept secret until the day of the game in the interest of prevent fans from showing up.
As far as solutions go, it obviously isn’t ideal. Of course it would be better if the stadiums were full, the clubs weren’t losing out on matchday revenue and the season didn’t have to resume after a huge break. But ideally the Coronavirus would never have emerged and it should now now be about making the best of an extremely bad situation.
Playing behind closed doors is the only option which avoids the potential legal troubles that voiding or simulating the season would bring and whilst also allowing the football to be resumed at the earliest possible date.
With the season halted, the Euros postponed and normal life locked down, football fans across the lands are counting the seconds until they can watch a ball being kicked again. The quickest, safest and most practical way to achieve this is by playing in empty stadiums as soon as it is deemed safe to. That is why the Premier League season has to be resumed behind closed doors
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