Sports

Premier League may block fans’ return over “sporting integrity”

The much anticipated return of fans to Premier League ground may yet be put on hold until next season.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for a partial return of crowds in time for the top flight’s final day of the season on Sunday, May 23.

But while supporters being back at games cannot come soon enough, there is a “sporting integrity” worry expressed by some clubs over whether home advantage and having fans will be unfair.

There could be key games – including Fulham hosting Newcastle, Leicester facing Tottenham and Aston Villa against Chelsea – deciding relegation and European places.

Premier League bosses will discuss the issue with their clubs over the next few weeks and, even though there is not a shareholders meeting this week, it is likely to be top of the agenda when they do meet again.

The Football Association are expecting the FA Cup final on May 15 to be a test event while the Carabao Cup final at Wembley between Manchester City and Tottenham on April 25 could also host a limited number of fans as an experiment.

Liverpool were able to get fans into Anfield earlier this season

The Football Association are expecting the FA Cup final on May 15 to be a test event while the Carabao Cup final at Wembley between Manchester City and Tottenham on April 25 could also host a limited number of fans as an experiment.

That could pave the way for more Premier League clubs to push for test events in early May which could potentially make it easier to have fans back for the final day of the season.

After waiting for the return of fans for so long, they could face a backlash if they lock out supporters for the final day of the season even if they will still only be allowed back in limited numbers.

The Government has allowed turnstiles to reopen from May 17 with up to 10,000 supporters or 25 per cent of capacity, whichever is the smaller back in grounds.

But that only allows for the final day of the Premier League campaign when traditionally there is always late drama. Even though Manchester City are threatening to run away with the title, other key issues are yet to be resolved.

Premier League clubs have reportedly discussed a two-week break in January
Premier League clubs have been forced to get used to empty stadiums

One club told Mirror Sport they did believe it would be an issue for the 20 clubs – even though they accepted it would be a bad look for football after so many months of insisting fans are the lifeblood of the game.

It is not the first time the issue has come up because earlier in the season there were complaints of some teams having fans allowed gave them an unfair advantage.

Former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard was one of the most vocal as he insisted London clubs were being penalised during the shut-out as compared to Liverpool and Everton who were allowed crowds back in on Merseyside.

The same debate is likely to rise again and the Premier League are acknowledging it is set to be an issue and will need to be resolved.

Premier League bosses are far more encouraged by the fact that full stadiums should be allowed from the start of next season and that could be a game changer for the next TV deal.

Talks have yet to formally start but clearly rights holders Sky, BT Sport and Amazon will see games very differently after the return of fans.

Meanwhile, UEFA will press ahead with fans being allowed back into grounds for the Euros this summer.

They have asked all national associations to report back by April on their plans and limitations in the case of having no fans, 20-30 per cent, 50 per cent and a full house.

Earlier in the campaign, they stopped any fans being allowed into Nations League games even in countries where restrictions had been lifted to stop unfair advantage.

Now they will welcome fans back wherever possible, citing Thursday’s Shakhtar Donetsk game with Maccabi Tel Aviv as an example where supporters will be allowed whereas other Europa League ties will be behind closed doors.

But they may yet have to completely overhaul and even start again on ticket allocations for the Euros depending on numbers and restrictions even though publicly UEFA insist they want to press ahead with the Europe-wide tournament across 12 cities.




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