Project Restart: Your questions answered on sport’s potential return

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The return of sport in Britain after a period of lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic continues to be hotly debated.

We asked for your questions on the issue. Here, our journalists answer some of the best ones.

  • Watch the full programme on the BBC News Channel on Saturday 9 May at 18:30 BST

If sports start returning are they going to test everyone involved before every match or race? If so, will it be at the sports’ cost? Jason Luck

Sports editor Dan Roan

Privately conducted coronavirus test are reckoned to cost between £150 and £180. For sports to get athletes back training and playing, they will have to foot the bill. This is not something that will be paid for by the government or the taxpayer – that would not go down well.

What we understand is the protocols being worked on in football, for example, insist on twice-weekly tests. For the Premier League to complete the season with 92 matches left, that could be about 40,000 tests at a cost of about £30,000 a week. Maybe that will not be a problem for the Premier League but, lower than the Football League and in other sports that aren’t quite as wealthy, that could be major issue.

If a restart is not safe now, will it be safe in August to start a new season? Why not take time to safely finish this one? Steve Wright

Senior football reporter Simon Stone

The problem is nobody knows what the situation is going to be in August or beyond. It would be easy to say stop all sports, including football, until August. You could have a situation where games are going to be played this month in Germany and next month in other countries.

If you could get games on in June or July and you don’t do that, then you get to August and find you can’t play because there is a second spike, then you have wasted your time.

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Will footballers be given the option to resume matches, or will they feel pressured into playing by their respective clubs? Martin Smith

What will happen when the first player, or players, refuse to participate? Neil McDade

Senior sports news reporter Laura Scott

We just don’t know at the moment what will happen if any player says they don’t want to play.

We do know that the consultation with the players and the Premier League will take place on Monday and probably next week with the EFL, to try to ascertain how confident players are in the medical protocols that are put to them. We have heard of concerns among players about the risks they will face, but the risk that is posed to their families as well.

It is not outside the realms of possibility that there may be players with underlying health conditions that we don’t know about, who might not be comfortable about going back into environments – even though there will be testing. That could be the deal-breaker if there are lots of players who say they don’t want to play.

  • Project Restart: Premier League doctors raise concerns

If the 2020-21 season is played behind closed doors, will there be more games on the BBC and ITV channels or will Sky and BT Sport get everything? David Comer

Dan Roan

Forty-seven of the remaining 92 matches are contractually assigned to the rights holders for live football – Sky Sports and BT. The issue is that Sky and BT have paid a lot of money for exclusivity for these matches, and if all the others are made free-to-air that dilutes that and perhaps their product is not worth as much.

The most likely route for the outstanding 45 games is that they are not on BBC or ITV, for example, but it is more likely they are shown on Sky or BT’s YouTube platforms, website or app or the Premier League’s platforms free-to-air. I do think the way that matches are broadcast is about to change significantly, assuming they are given the go-ahead to begin again behind closed doors in the middle of June.

  • Premier League matches could be on free-to-air TV

How can sport return while players still carry on the bizarre practice of spitting and emptying the contents of their nose on the pitch? Kevin

Rugby union correspondent Chris Jones

Especially in the contact sports such as football, rugby union and league and combat sports like boxing, the risk of transmission and infection is so much higher than you would get in normal social distancing.

I have seen a document from World Rugby which talks about how to reduce the amount of spitting. Similarly, in boxing there are protocols around not having spit buckets. On the other hand, if you are asking these elite sports people to reach the peak of their physical capability, it is pretty impossible to get them not to spit or sweat.

  • No fans and masks for ring walks – boxing’s July return plan

I’d like to know when we can start playing village cricket again? What rules will we have to have in place regarding everyone touching the ball? David

Laura Scott

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) told MPs this week that it is really keen to help recreational and junior cricket return as it is a massive concern.

Grassroots sport will be a question for the government when it reviews the lockdown restrictions. We expect the ECB to respond to that in terms of how it phases the return of recreational cricket in the same way it will with professional cricket.

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What is the likelihood of Premiership Rugby completing the season? Chris Routley

Chris Jones

There were some quite ambitious proclamations from Premiership Rugby a few months ago, saying it wanted to be one of the first sports back on television. That is looking increasingly unlikely because rugby union is going to have to take the lead from football. There are nine rounds of Premiership matches left and it is inevitable they will have to take place behind closed doors. The Premiership is still aiming for a resumption in early July.

It is not like football where maybe in two weeks an elite player could get ready for a match. In rugby union, especially when you consider the strains, say, put on players’ necks in scrums, it is more like four to six weeks or even eight weeks they would need. Rugby union has a big dilemma; it can’t rush things.

In terms of the resumption dates for the community game, nothing has been decided yet. The Rugby Football Union will have to take the advice of the government.

Sport relies on spectators as there’s little point in playing it otherwise. How will spectators be reintroduced into sport? Graham Jagger

Dan Roan

Certain sports like golf, which is played outside – where the risk of transmission is less than those sports played inside tightly packed areas – have a better chance of getting supporters back quicker than others.

It is a huge fundamental question for all sports with profound ramifications for some in terms of their business models, which have always relied on the match-going spectator. I am reading a lot about virtual reality and how broadcasting may have to change fundamentally to bring TV viewers to the stadia and advance their experience of the event.

It is going to be fascinating to see how sports adapt.

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