LONDON, United Kingdom, Apr 29 – Gary Neville fears Premier League players’ lives will be put at risk if football is rushed back too soon after the coronavirus-enforced lockdown in Britain.
Premier League chiefs are aiming for a return to action in June and several clubs opened their training grounds to players this week as they work on “Project Restart”.
The English top flight is understood to be aiming to run a huge testing operation to keep footballers safe, with reports of 26,000 tests being lined up for players and staff.
But FIFA’s medical chief Michel D’Hooghe said on Tuesday that football should not be played until September and former Manchester United defender Neville is worried that Premier League stars will be put in danger by the rush to return.
“The FIFA medical officer said that football should not take place before September. I think if it was a non-economic decision there would be no football for months,” Neville told the Sky Sports Football Show on Wednesday.
“People are now assessing risk. How many people have to die playing football in the Premier League before it becomes unpalatable? One? One player? One member of staff goes into intensive care? What risk do we have to take? The discussion is purely economic.”
Neville voiced his particular concerns over the risk to players with existing medical conditions.
“If health comes first, there is only one outcome at this moment in time. How many players have got asthma? How many players have diabetes?
“Have they assessed all of these things and are they willing to put those people at risk?”
The UK is among the worst-hit countries in the global COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 21,000 deaths so far.
The country is on lockdown until at least May 7, but government officials have spoken in positive terms about a potential return for football if the virus is under control.
– ‘No football for months’ –
Germany’s sports ministers have said the Bundesliga could return next month but Dutch football chiefs have called an end to the Eredivisie season and the Belgian campaign is in the balance.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said football would not return in his country until at least September.
In the Premier League, full training is reportedly slated for mid-May, with the plan to be discussed at a meeting of stakeholders on Friday.
However, Neville is concerned that the Premier League’s desire to conclude the campaign is being driven by financial motives, with the English top flight facing a huge hit if the 92 remaining fixtures are not played.
The former England international said if it were a non-economic decision there would be no football for months but he acknowledged that players at lower levels would want to play because the alternative was “bad”.
“(A total of) 1,400 players are out of contract in three months so they’ll need football to resume so their livelihoods can continue,” he said.
“There’s huge economic loss. It clouds people’s minds in terms of the risk that they’re willing to take.”