Football

EPL inspectors to police clubs as Project Restart kicks off

League aims to ensure teams follow new Covid-19 rules as players return to training

The social distancing restrictions in force for the English Premier League's return to training will be monitored by a team of inspectors to ensure clubs play by the new rules, its director of football said yesterday.

Richard Garlick told reporters that the league would introduce unannounced visits to training grounds where, from yesterday, small groups may conduct non-contact training.

Said Garlick: "We can request information from videoing of the sessions and GPS data, too.

"We are also looking at bringing in our own independent audit inspection team that we'll scale up over the next few days, which will give us the ability to have inspections at training grounds to start with on a no-notice basis."

Initially training sessions must be limited to 75 minutes and players can only work in groups of five at the most.

A team who began contact training, large group training or held longer sessions could gain an advantage over other clubs, which is why the league is going down the inspection route.

"Gradually, we aim to ramp that up so we can have an inspector at every training ground.

"That will enable us to give everyone confidence that the protocols are being complied with, and give the public confidence that we are trying to create a very safe working environment," added Garlick.

The league's medical adviser Mark Gillett said that Public Health England had told football not to expect any significant easing in the need for social distancing in the near future.

"They've made it very clear that the public health situation is not going to change over the next six to 12 months. In terms of social distancing and that cultural change we are asking footballers to make, I think we are going to face that for the foreseeable future," he said.

AUDIO EFFECTS

Meanwhile, the EPL is exploring the use of audio effects and computer generated "fans", to improve the viewer experience of watching closed-door games.

EPL chief executive Richard Masters says they are looking at ways to improve the television experience of watching games in empty stadiums should the league return as planned next month.

Said Masters: "I think we'll take a different approach, not better, but slightly different approach about the behind closed doors product and that was one of the things we were able to talk to clubs today...

"We have group of clubs and broadcasters together on that."

Sources with knowledge of the discussions have indicated that all options are currently on the table, including adding crowd noise and the use of computer generated (CGI) fans to replace the images of empty seats in the stadium.

No decision has been taken on whether to use such technology, with concerns that any changes do not make the game appear too far away from the reality of what is unfolding on the pitch.

Said Masters: "The big issue is that if there aren't fans in the stadium, what does the viewing fan at home, what's his experience like? And how different is it to a normal Premier League production and that's the question we're seeking to answer."

Gudjon Gudjonsson, CEO of OZ Sports, which offers augmented reality products said: "The idea is to protect the integrity and experience of the game, by turning the attention away from the empty stadium, and instead replacing it with appealing surroundings to make the game more interesting, and as close to reality as possible." - REUTERS

Football