The first effect of the Coronavirus has been felt in the Premier League this week, with the game between Arsenal and Manchester City being postponed.
It is a disease that has showed its effects all across the globe. Europe, though, has been the continent that has been worst hit by the Coronavirus outbreak, which stemmed first from China. Italy has already been crippled by COVID-19 and after initially postponing five Serie A games, all sporting activities have been suspended in the country until at least April 3.
The first effects of Coronavirus in England have been felt this week after Evangelos Marinakis, who owns Olympiacos and Nottingham Forest, confirmed that he had tested positive for the disease.
Subsequently, the Premier League game between Manchester City and Arsenal, which was supposed to be played on Wednesday night, was postponed as a “precautionary measure” after it emerged that several Arsenal players had met Marinakis when Olympiacos hosted the Gunners in the Europa League two weeks ago.
The Arsenal players and staff are now following protocol and are in self-isolation, although the club have announced that the risk of the players developing COVID-19 is “extremely low”. However, with a game being postponed for the first time due to Coronavirus, questions have been raised as to what the future holds for the remainder of the Premier League season.
The Premier League has insisted that it has no plans to postpone any other matches and “all necessary measures are being taken”. The Hard Tackle, though, considers the possible scenarios that could be on the cards for the remainder of the season, should things get more complicated.
Playing Behind Closed Doors
For now, Premier League football will carry on as it does normally, with fans swarming the various stadiums across England. However, if the spread of the Coronavirus does not slow down at the very least, football in England could follow the route taken by leagues in Germany, France and other countries by playing games behind closed doors.
A number of UEFA Champions League and Europa League games have also been directed to be played without the presence of fans in the stadiums. If the situation in England does not improve, the first logical step will have to be playing behind closed doors, especially in the wake of the aforementioned statement by the Premier League.
From now till the end of the season, there are only a couple of weeks, when there are no European games being played, wherein any rescheduled matches can be accommodated. However, even those dates are supposed to be currently used for matches that have been postponed due to the FA Cup.
The FA Cup final will be played on the weekend following the final Premier League gameweek, with the Champions League final being played on the weekend after. With the UEFA Euro 2020 currently scheduled to begin from June 12 and there is no word on whether any of the tournaments or games being either postponed or cancelled.
In such a scenario, it is hard to see how the Premier League season could be finished unless games are played behind closed doors. Having said that, even such a scenario does not have a lot of fans, with Pep Guardiola among those who has said that he would prefer games being postponed instead of those matches being played without fans in the stadium.
Apart from certain managers’ preference of playing football in front of fans, the financial cost of games being played behind closed doors would be enormous as well, considering it has been estimated that Juventus lost over €3 million by having to play their match against Inter Milan behind closed doors.
Then there is the case of fans who travel the world over for the rare occasion of watching their favourite teams in action at their own stadiums. Those fans could well be left high and dry. Broadcasting issues have also been considered.
However, this might as well be the best step forward, if the Premier League season is to be finished. In such a scenario, though, Liverpool’s long-awaited title coronation, which appears to be but a formality for now, would amazingly take place inside an empty stadium, without jubilant fans being able to share a yearned-for memory with the players. Unprecedented, to say the least.
A Long-Awaited Title Coronation To Be Cancelled?
While the preference would be to culminate the current season any which way possible, what happens if the situation becomes untenable? What happens if a Premier League player contracts the Coronavirus, like Juventus defender Daniele Rugani has, this week?
As it turns out, in such a scenario, the UK Government will have no choice but to cancel the Premier League season. A directive has already been sent to clubs to proceed normally, but, as per the BBC, it also clearly states that protecting the players and managers is imperative if the fixtures that remain in the season are to be completed without a glitch.
If any personnel were to contract the Coronavirus, the season could well be cancelled, as the email sent to the Premier League clubs suggests. “The first team environment is especially crucial: an outbreak affecting the first team of just one club could make completing the season very difficult to achieve,” clubs were told.
For now, all clubs have been ordered to “step up their contingency plan”, with the first plan of action being to play football behind closed doors if the situation worsens, as we have also iterated. The email has also stipulated that the UK Government have outlined three different categories of contingency plans, which would have to be adhered to under certain situations.
The Premier League is currently in Category A, described as “as you are”, but if it were to proceed to the Category B situation, games would be played “behind closed doors”, while Category C would entail “cancellation, curtailment or postponement” of matches.
If the Category C contingency plan is to be carried out, major question marks would arise, what with the issue of European qualifiers, relegated teams and promotion from the Championship. The legal issues would mount exponentially in such a scenario.
After all, how can a team be relegated from the Premier League or be promoted from the second tier unless all the games of the season are played? Pandemonium could be on the cards if the season is cancelled completely, as Premier League rules stipulate that a champion cannot be crowned if things reach such a stage.
The legal costs, in such a case, could mount, with Tranmere Rovers chairman Mark Palios, a former chief executive of the Football Association, of the opinion that clubs could take action against the UK Government.
However, this will only happen in the worst case scenario, which appears to be far-fetched for now, given the kind of precautionary measures that are being taken. For now, it is business as usual, with Liverpool’s long-awaited title coronation a mere weeks away.