The English Premier League, the most-watched sports league in the world, plans to resume play on June 17 after a two-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic, league officials announced on Thursday.
The resumption of play follows Germany’s Bundesliga, which began play last week. It adds momentum to a comeback of sports, with several North American leagues also making plans to find a way back to play.
The league’s return would come after weeks of uncertainty amid disagreement among teams over whether a return could be possible. Germany’s successful return to action this month, with the league completing two rounds of action without incident, helped build a consensus among executives of England’s leading teams who would have faced huge losses should the season be called off.
The agreement still requires final clearance from British authorities.
In recent days, momentum had been building that the league would return to action after similar moves to complete the season without fans in a growing number of leagues across Europe. English teams had earlier this week agreed to protocols for the resumption of full contact practice, the last step players were required to take before competing in games again.
Sky Sports, which broadcasts the majority of Premier League games in Britain, said the first games on the schedule will be Aston Villa’s home game with Sheffield United and Arsenal’s visit to Manchester City; those games were postponed earlier in the season because of a clash in the calendar.
For weeks, several setbacks had suggested that the Premier League might not find a solution to completing the season before an assumed deadline of early August. Some players had raised doubts of returning to action while the coronavirus continued to rage, and a number of smaller teams objected to the possibility of having to play the remaining games at neutral sites, a consideration after talks between the league and public authorities responsible for crowd control.
But slowly the fractious mood among the league’s various stakeholders has started to coalesce around the need to try to restart, with the realities of not completing the season becoming clearer. There would be a thicket of legal issues, most notably related to deciding which three teams would be relegated to the second tier, a demotion worth tens of millions of pounds. A punishing rebate would also be owed to domestic and global broadcasters that pay more for the Premier League than any other national soccer championship.
The Premier League’s restart plans have also received regular support from the British government, with senior lawmakers regularly talking up the possibility of games being played should strict hygiene regulations be met.
The league has recently conducted three rounds of tests on players and staff, which resulted in 12 positive cases in 2,752 tests. The tests are required to take place twice weekly, with anyone who tests positive told to isolate for seven days before being cleared to return.