<
>

Premier League 'Project Restart' latest: Clubs agree to tackle again at training

play
Prem clubs unanimously agree to full contact training (1:45)

Don Hutchison and Steve Nicol examine the timetable for a PL restart after clubs resumed full training. (1:45)

The Premier League made a significant stride toward restarting matches on Wednesday after all 20 clubs unanimously agreed to resume contact training.

A brief shareholders meeting concluded with a vote on moving to Phase 2 of preparations following discussions on Tuesday between players, managers and league representatives designed to assuage concerns about social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

- ESPN+: Stream ESPN FC TVdaily and 30 for 30: SoccerStories

The league also confirmed on Wednesday that it had four positive cases from three clubs following its third round of testing of 1,008 players and club staff.

Several players, including Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante and Watford striker Troy Deeney, have opted to pursue individual programmes at home, partly due to statistics indicating people from a BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) background are more likely to die from COVID-19.

Regarding contact training, the league said: "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 (Professional Footballers' Association), the LMA (League Managers' Association) and the Government. Discussions are ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season when conditions allow."

The Premier League can today confirm that on Monday 25 May and Tuesday 26 May, 1008 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, four have tested positive from three clubs.

Those conversations will continue on Thursday when the Premier League meets again to discuss wide-ranging issues including a restart date, television scheduling and contingency plans if the season has to be curtailed.

Sources told ESPN on Monday that the original June 12 return date is now viewed by many to be too soon to build up players' fitness to a level that minimises the risk of injury. A date later in the month -- possibly June 19 or June 26 if the commitment to resuming on a Friday night remains -- is most likely.

It is possible the clubs will not agree on an exact date on Thursday but instead confirm the intention to resume matches next month and then thrash out the time frame for the remaining 92 matches at a subsequent meeting.

For now, contact training will resume with further encouragement taken from the Bundesliga's successful return in Germany. Two rounds of tests in the Premier League have returned just eight positive cases, and players have been assured that a detailed track and trace system will make them safe to train and play.

"Project Restart" now includes a white paper created by STATSports -- the company that makes GPS vests for the majority of its clubs -- titled "Player Proximity" that outlines how players can be tracked to determine how many times they are within two metres of anyone else during a training session. The average incursion lasts a maximum of 3.3 seconds.

Clubs can use the data from these vests to track and trace anyone who came into contact with a player who subsequently tested positive.

The United Kingdom government remains supportive of football's return and is reviewing nationwide lockdown measures with a view to easing restrictions in several areas next week.