While not yet inevitable or something anybody wants to see happen, a Premier League executive today suggested a move to play games behind closed doors is “likely” in the coming weeks due to coronavirus, or COVID-19, fears.
The move, according to Everton CFO Sasha Ryazantsev, would see English clubs following the lead of Serie A, where the decision was made earlier in the week to play games without any fans in the stands in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
“It would be a forced decision rather than one we would proactively engage in,” Ryazantsev told attendees of the Financial Times’ Business of Football Summit today. “But the whole situation goes far beyond the world of sport.
“Nobody wants to play behind closed doors and I don’t think it’s inevitable that it will happen, but we feel it is quite likely it may happen in the coming weeks.”
It’s worth noting that, as Ryazantsev says, likely is not the same as inevitable, and that Italy’s move to play games behind closed doors was taken at a time when, according to the World Health Organisation, that country has more than 2500 confirmed cases.
By comparison, the United Kingdom had 51 confirmed cases as per the WHO, and that the league would not “proactively” seek to move games behind closed doors suggests such a move is not imminent.
As such, Ryazantsev’s statement is not especially unexpected, essentially confirming that if the virus spreads in England as it has in Italy, the league is prepared to react accordingly.
For now, clubs will individually take any moves they see fit from a health and safety standpoint, with Liverpool releasing a statement outlining their plans—including doing away with mascots and cancelling staff travel to infectious areas—earlier in the day.