Premiership sets 1 August target but Sports Minister warns date is ‘provisional’

Top-flight training can resume on 11 June

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster says starting the Premiership on 1 August is a 'firm target'. Picture: SNS

The Premiership has been given a tentative green light to start behind closed doors in August if Phase 2 of Scotland’s “route map” out of the coronavirus lockdown is in effect.

Sports Minister Joe FitzPatrick yesterday met heads of sports bodies, including SPFL and SFA chief executives Neil Doncaster and Ian Maxwell.

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Permission has been given for Scotland’s elite players to start training on 11 June, so the SFA have lifted football’s suspension from that date – for Premiership clubs only.

Top-flight clubs will work on devising training programmes which satisfy social distancing guidelines with the 2020-21 season set to begin on schedule on the weekend of 1 and 2 August.

Doncaster described this as “a major step forward”.

However, it was underlined that 1 August is only a provisional date at this stage and relies on moving to the next phase of the route map.

Scottish rugby also hopes to restart in August, while Scottish racing aims to re-commence on 22 June.

The next review of the route map is on 18 June, when health experts will advise if enough progress has been made on controlling the virus.

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

“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. However, I know everyone involved will welcome some clarity.”

Scottish football’s coronavirus Joint Response Group has a strategy that is broadly in line with the Scottish Government’s route map and has three steps: return to training; return to playing; return to supporting.

The last of these stages remains very much on hold for clubs in all divisions.

Doncaster 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 1 August 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.

“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.

“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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