Coronavirus pandemic: Hard to see fans returning to football soon says FA chairman

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LONDON: Football Association chairman Greg Clarke has said it is hard to see fans returning to matches “any time soon”. If the Premier League and Football League seasons resume, those matches will be played behind closed doors.

The Premier League is also preparing for the possibility of playing the 2020-21 season without fans. “The reality is that we just don’t know how things are going to pan out,” Clarke wrote in a letter to the FA governing council.

“But with social distancing in place for some time to come we do face substantial changes to the whole football ecosystem. “For example it’s hard to foresee crowds of fans – who are the lifeblood of the game – returning to matches any time soon.”

Clarke warned of an FA budget cut of £75m this year, with a “worst-case scenario” of a £300m deficit over the next four years impacting “every area of the game”.

Top-flight clubs have been told that using up to 10 neutral stadiums will be the only way to complete the season. Brighton say they are “not in favour” of using neutral venues because it may affect the “integrity” of the league.

Clubs near the bottom of the table feel it is unfair to play in such different conditions when at risk of relegation. A growing number of Premier League clubs are open to playing the remaining fixtures at neutral venues but with the threat of relegation removed.

A larger 23-team division has been suggested, with three teams added from the Championship. But with an already crowded calendar, that is not an option currently being considered by the Premier League. The BBC has learned the Premier League fears six or seven clubs are opposed to neutral stadiums.

But there is also a sense that within that group there are disagreements over how they want the season to end. The neutral stadium proposal needs 14 out of 20 clubs to vote in favour for it to be adopted. —Agencies

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