Premier League clubs have voted unanimously to approve a return to contact training, in another significant step towards the resumption of matches “when safe to do so”.
Players had already resumed training last week in small groups while respecting social distancing measures, according to step one of the return to training protocols.
Several players, including Watford captain Troy Deeney and Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante, are not taking part in phase one of the return to training protocols because of concerns about coronavirus.
Earlier this week, the UK government released its ‘phase two’ guidance for athletes and elite sportsmen and women to make a phased return to close-contact and competitive training, provided individual sports “have the appropriate carefully controlled medical conditions in place”.
The official advice, aimed at helping competitors reach fitness levels required for matches, says close-contact training for elite athletes can include coaching and tackling in team sports within a two-metre distance, in groups of up to 12 players.
The Premier League discussed the updated government advice on contact training with club captains, managers and representatives from the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) and the League Managers Association (LMA) on conference calls on Tuesday afternoon.
It is understood no significant issues were raised during those calls, with one source describing the calls as “completely different to last week’s call when several players expressed serious concerns about a return to football”.
Players were told that the Premier League and the government have committed to further research into the risk to those from BAME backgrounds compared to other groups.
That paved the way for Premier League clubs to vote yes to resuming contact training.
The Premier League said in a statement: “Premier League Shareholders today voted unanimously to resume contact training, marking another step towards restarting the Premier League season, when safe to do so.
“Squads are now able to train as a group and engage in tackling while minimising any unnecessary close contact.
“The Premier League’s priority is the health and wellbeing of all participants.
“Strict medical protocols are in place to ensure the training ground is the safest environment possible and players and staff will continue to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.
“Stage Two of the Return to Training protocol has been agreed following consultation with clubs, players, managers, the PFA, LMA and the Government.
“Discussions are ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season, when conditions allow.”
All 20 clubs have now completed the third round of COVID-19 tests and results are expected to be published by the Premier League on Wednesday afternoon.
There have been eight positive cases from 1,744 tests conducted across the first two rounds.
Thursday is another important day for the Premier League. That is when all other aspects of Project Restart will be discussed, including the league’s contingency plans on relegation, the issue of the use of points-per-game, and the award of the Premier League title, if the season has to be curtailed.