Minister opens door for football, rugby and racing to return in Scotland

Scottish Premiership clubs given the green light to resume training on 11 June

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster and SFA counterpart Ian Maxwell.

Football, rugby and racing can return behind closed doors in Scotland as part of Phase 2 of the pandemic route map, according to the Minister for Sport, Joe FitzPatrick.

FitzPatrick met with representatives of the three sports on Friday and delivered a cautiously optimistic update.

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However, he would not give a date on when the sports would resume. The next review of the route map is scheduled for 18 June.

Scottish Premiership football clubs have been given the green light to resume training on 11 June.

“We understand the importance of sport to the people of Scotland, and the desire of many to see it resume,” FitzPatrick said.

“Earlier today I met with senior representatives from football, rugby and racing to consider in detail how those sports will resume when it is safe to do so.

“When we are in Phase 2 of our pandemic route map, and suitable health protection measures are in place, then elite football, rugby and racing should be able to resume behind closed doors.

“As we are currently unable to say exactly when Phase 2 will commence, any proposed dates for resumption behind closed doors must be provisional and subject to wider public health considerations. However, I know everyone involved will welcome some clarity to assist planning.”

Most sports in Scotland have been suspended since March, but golf, tennis, bowls and angling were given the green light to resume on Friday.

Scottish football chiefs want the 2020-21 Scottish Premiership season to begin on schedule on the weekend of August 1 and 2.

To achieve this, Scottish football’s SFA/SPFL Joint Response Group (JRG) has recommended lifting the Scottish FA’s suspension of football, for the Scottish Premiership only, from June 11.

Football in Scotland has been suspended since 13 March

The JRG said in a statement: “This will enable Premiership clubs to begin preparations to ensure their training grounds and stadia are equipped to deal with the increased safety measures necessary to create biosecure environments for players and staff, including the ability to undertake the necessary testing procedures and observing stringent training and matchday protocols.

“It will also provide sufficient period for clubs to begin a phased return to pre-season training in line with the government’s phasing programme, beginning with individual sessions and evolving into smaller groups at the appropriate time before entering into full squad training and preparation prior to the scheduled start date.

“We are fully aware that the third stage of a return to professional football, the ability for fans to return to grounds, will not happen immediately due to the government’s social distancing and mass gathering measures to counteract the spread of Coronavirus. We will continue to plan for the gradual reintroduction of fans as soon as it is deemed safe to do so by the medical experts.”

Ian Maxwell, Scottish FA chief executive, said: “I would like to thank the minister and the National Clinical Director for Scotland for their receptiveness to our proposal. Return to professional football has been the culmination of weeks of hard work from across the game from people whose workloads and demands have already been increased to cope with the impact of Covid-19 on their clubs or areas of work within Scottish football.”

Neil Doncaster, the SPFL chief executive, said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government have given the green light to the resumption of football training in June.

“We now have a firm target of starting the 2020/21 Premiership season on the weekend of August 1 and that’s a major step forward. We will continue working with the Championship, League 1 and League 2 to gauge their ability to start the season and if so, when - which may vary hugely between clubs.

“We clearly welcome the prospect of resuming matches, but we have to take all necessary steps to ensure we can have a sustainable league campaign. That means a safety-first approach, with games initially played behind closed doors and a range of measures to protect players and staff.

“The return of crowds is something we all want to see and we will be working with clubs, Government and medical professionals to return safely to playing in front of fans as soon as we can.”

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