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Richard Masters expects coronavirus pandemic to cost PL £2bn

Richard Masters expects coronavirus pandemic to cost PL £2bn
© Reuters
Saturday marks a year since the suspension of the English professional game because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The coronavirus pandemic will have cost the Premier League close to £2billion by the end of the season, its chief executive Richard Masters has said, but he hopes to start next season with full stadia.

Saturday marks a year since the suspension of the English professional game because of the Covid-19 outbreak, leaving the league open to demands for rebates from broadcasters and its clubs unable to welcome spectators to any meaningful level since.

And Masters laid bare the extent of the financial damage the pandemic had inflicted on the competition and its clubs.

“There have been very significant financial losses, not just in the Premier League but throughout the football pyramid,” he said.

“Towards the end of this season, we’ll get towards £2billion lost since the start of the pandemic in match day revenue and broadcast revenue.”

Masters has great optimism for the future, however, and believes there is a chance of full stadia for the start of the 2021-22 season.

“A lot of things have got to happen at the right time to get there, but we believe it’s an achievable goal,” he said.

Masters confirmed that the league hoped to be able to play the final two rounds of the current season in front of up to 10,000 spectators under the Government’s road map for the easing of coronavirus restrictions, and said the continued success of the vaccination programme was key to venues returning to full capacity in the future.

Masters was asked about the hours and days leading up to the suspension last March.

He attended the last Premier League match before the suspension, Leicester v Aston Villa, on March 9.

“I remember travelling back from that match, feeling we were under criticism, that we were under scrutiny for continuing to play football,” he said.

On the evening of Thursday, March 12 the league stated its intention to carry on playing but immediately afterwards, Masters was informed that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi had tested positive.

“Those were the first positive tests in the Premier League cohort that we knew about, and that changed everything,” Masters said.

The decision to suspend the 2019-20 season came the following day, and Masters recalled that the mood at the clubs shareholders’ meeting to rubber-stamp it was “calm” and “realistic”.

He insists that right from the start, there was no push to either curtail the season or declare it null and void.

“As early as that first meeting, the primary objective of the Premier League and its clubs was to finish the season,” he said.

“That collective will never really wavered throughout.”

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam tried to allay players' fears about returning to training last May
Deputy chief medical officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam tried to allay players’ fears about returning to training last May (PA)

Project Restart gathered momentum in May when clubs returned to training, after players were given assurances over safety from deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam among others.

Masters described the conclusion of the restarted season as a “sprint”, in contrast to the 2020-21 campaign.

“This feels more like a marathon. The schedule that we have put in front of the players and the clubs is pretty brutal,” he admitted.

A surge in new cases at the turn of the year, driven by a more transmissible variant of the virus, threatened to derail the season as matches were forced to be postponed, sometimes at very late notice. Masters said the league had not been near to a further suspension at that point, but that it was “the nearest they had come” since restarting last summer.

The league tightened safety protocols and introduced new ones, including reminders to players around over-exuberant goal celebrations and contact before and after matches.

Masters believes those two areas have “dramatically changed” and pointed to the reduction in positive tests as proof – they have been stable at just two per week for five weeks in a row now.

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha says he will no longer take the knee
Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha says he will no longer take the knee (PA)

The end of the season will give players chance to think again about the best way to promote the anti-racism message.

The death in police custody of George Floyd in the United States last May sparked a rise in Black Lives Matter protests, and when the Premier League resumed the following month players took the knee as a show of solidarity.

It is a gesture which has been almost unanimously observed since, although Wilfried Zaha has said he will no longer do so because it was “something we just do now”.

Masters said taking the knee would continue “to the end of the season” and that there would then be fresh talks with players over the most effective way forward.

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ChinaChina34241674
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Today's Olympic highlights header

Friday's key events


HOCKEY
· Great Britain's women aim to secure their place on the podium as they face India in the bronze medal match (2.30am)
· Netherlands - silver medallists five years ago - and Argentina battle for the gold medal in the women's final (11am)

BEACH VOLLEYBALL
· The women's gold medal will be decided as Australia and USA go head to head (3.30am)

BOXING
· Lauren Price will be looking to add to Team GB's success in the ring when she takes on Nouchka Fontijn of Netherlands in the women's middleweight semi-final (6am)

DIVING
· Tom Daley already has one Olympic gold to his name in Tokyo, and he begins his bid for second in the men's 10m platform. Teammate Noah Williams is also involved in the preliminary round (7am)

CYCLING
· Jason Kenny's reign as sprint king may be over, but Jack Carlin looked strong in his bid to succeed his compatriot. He takes on Harrie Lavreysen in his sprint semi-final (8.10am), with the final taking place later in the day (10.35am)
· The women's madison makes its Olympic debut at the velodrome as Team GB duo Katie Archibald and Laura Kenny look to add another medal to their collections (9.15am)

FOOTBALL
· Hosts Japan will look to get themselves on the podium as they face Mexico in the men's bronze medal match (10am)
· The women's champions will be crowned as both Sweden and Canada aim to win Olympic gold for the very first time (1pm)

ATHLETICS
· The men's 5000m final includes Great Britain's Andrew Butchart, but most eyes will be on Ugandan world record holder Joshua Cheptegei (1pm)
· Team GB's Jodie Williams will hope to get on the podium in the women's 400m final, but defending champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo is favourite for gold while Stephenie Ann McPherson should challenge and Allyson Felix is bidding to become the most decorated female track and field athlete of all time (1.35pm)
· Netherlands' Sifan Hassan takes on leg two of her ambitious attempt at a Tokyo treble in a women's 1500m final which also includes Great Britain's Laura Muir and Faith Kipyegon of Kenya (1.50pm)
· A star-studded women's 4x100m relay final will see a Team GB quartet including Dina Asher-Smith look to upset defending champions USA and favourites Jamaica, who boast Elaine Thompson-Herah as she goes for her third gold of the Games (2.30pm)
· Great Britain and Jamaica will also be going for gold in the men's 4x100m relay final, and their medal hopes have been boosted by USA's failure to qualify (2.50pm)

> Today's schedule in full
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