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Premier League boost: Government aims for return of sport in June

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FILE: In this Sunday, May 6, 2018 file photo, the English Premier League trophy is displayed on the pitch prior to the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Huddersfield Town at Etihad stadium in Manchester, England. Steve Parish, the chairman of Crystal Palace, says the Premier League could face years of legal challenges if this season is not completed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rui Vieira, AP

LONDON (AP) — The path to the Premier League resuming was eased Monday by the government saying elite sports will be allowed to resume in England in June if there is no new spike in coronavirus infections.

While spectators will not be allowed into stadiums for some time, the British government embracing the return of professional sports stands in contrast to rulings by French and Dutch authorities who have banned any events until September.

The announcement from Boris Johnson’s administration came as Premier League clubs held a conference call about the logistics involved in restarting the competition amid divisions over a plan to use neutral venues for all games.

When the league was halted two months ago, Liverpool was 25 points clear with nine games remaining.

Now the national lockdown that was imposed in March and led to the shut down of sports is starting to be lifted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Step two of the government roadmap for easing the lockdown restrictions includes “permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed-doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact.”

“To aid planning,” the document added, “the government’s current aim is that the second step will be made no earlier than Monday 1 June, subject to these conditions being satisfied. ... Organizations should prepare accordingly.”

The Premier League and other sports organizers will now be waiting to hear when the government will allow the resumption of group training by athletes, even as social distancing regulations are maintained in wider society.

The challenge containing the coronavirus without a vaccine will mean sports will be staged without fans.

The government said permitting large crowds in stadiums again “may only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections.”