Health, Sport and Wellbeing Minister Joe FitzPatrick has confirmed football’s Premiership – as well as top-level rugby and horse racing – can return behind closed doors in phase two of the Scottish Government’s easing of the coronavirus lockdown.
Figures from sport today met Mr FitzPatrick and National Clinical Director Jason Leitch.
After the meeting, Mr FitzPatrick – while stressing timeframes for the next phases of easing the coronavirus lockdown are subject to change, said: “We understand the importance of sport to the people of Scotland, and the desire of many to see it resume.
“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.”
As of today, we are in phase 1 of the Scottish Government’s plan, with sports like golf and tennis returning.
During today’s meeting, the Scottish FA and SPFL joint response group recommended lifting the Covid-19 shutdown for Premiership clubs from June 11 to allow teams to return to training.
SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell and SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster presented their Return to Football strategy, including a plan to begin the 2020/21 top-flight season behind closed doors on the weekend of August 1 and 2. They said they are still investigating how to restart the rest of the game, given the financial model may not be suitable for action without spectators.
Scottish football at all levels has been shutdown since March 13, and the Return to Football strategy is split into three stages – return to training, return to playing and return to supporting. The last part of the strategy won’t be permitted until phases 3 and 4 of the Scottish Government’s lockdown exit strategy.
A football joint response group statement said: “We have recommended lifting the Scottish FA’s suspension of football, for the Scottish Premiership only, from June 11.
“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.”
SFA boss Maxwell 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.
“In particular, I would like to thank our Chief Medical Consultant, Dr John MacLean, for his invaluable input throughout this process. As a JRG member and co-chair of the medical sub group, he has overseen creation of a comprehensive strategy for testing procedures and safe ‘return to training’ and ‘return to playing’ protocols that have given confidence that the Scottish Premiership can kick-off in August.
“As the governing body, we will continue to engage with government and key stakeholders to provide a similar plan for the return of the game at all levels of Scottish football. While acknowledging that the current testing regime required to be observed will be prohibitive for most clubs out with the Premiership at this time, we are aware that there are hundreds of thousands of players across the Scottish football landscape looking for clarity on when they can return to action.
“In particular, the paused Scottish Women’s Premier League is keen to restart and we will be discussing with stakeholders the process to restart the women’s senior game in line with the government’s route map out of lockdown.
“Conversations will continue in the coming weeks to outline a pragmatic approach for the whole game and we will communicate those developments at the appropriate time.”
SPFL chief Doncaster said he was “delighted” with the news.
Meanwhile, Scottish Rugby’s chief operating officer Dominic McKay said: “We’d like to thank the Sports Minister, Joe FitzPatrick and Professor Leitch for facilitating this meeting and giving Scottish Rugby the opportunity to present our plans on ‘Return to Rugby’ in line with the Scottish Government’s guidance.
“It was a very productive meeting and Scottish Rugby welcomes today’s acknowledgment by the Minister for Sport, Mr FitzPatrick and Professor Leitch that we can continue to develop our plans for our professional players to resume training in due course with a view to games potentially taking place when professional rugby resumes in line with Government advice.
“We also had a further discussion on grassroots rugby and how we can use our current learnings to address some of the challenges faced with restarting the community game. Discussions with Government on this vital aspect of our sport are ongoing.
“I’d like to thank the members of Scottish Rugby’s Threat Management Group and all our staff who are working tirelessly to ensure we can plan, develop and deliver a safe, credible resumption of rugby at the appropriate time and within the necessary public health guidelines.”