Premier League set for crucial vote on finishing season during coronavirus - sources

The Premier League is set for a decisive vote on May 8 as talks continue over ways to finish the 2019-20 season, sources have told ESPN.

Representatives of all 20 clubs took part in a four-hour video conference call on Friday at which they reaffirmed their commitment to completing the campaign whenever the coronavirus pandemic allows.

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Various options were discussed but the league confirmed that nothing was finalised and conversations remain ongoing.

One source involved in the conversations told ESPN a firm instruction from the government was necessary to find a clear path forward. Once that is provided, a vote on if and how the season should be completed is expected.

Several issues were explored on Friday, including where matches will be played and the logistics of behind-closed-doors fixtures.

Sources have told ESPN several clubs raised strong opposition to the idea of neutral venues, even though this model would theoretically be easier to monitor and police as opposed to home and away fixtures which could encourage fans to gather outside stadiums.

However, the issue of the competition's integrity was raised -- specifically all teams benefitting from home advantage -- while there were also indications that clubs would help cover the cost of Personal Protective Equipment for matchday staff and testing of players if necessary.

It has been estimated that around 100,000 tests are required in order to safely resume the top four tiers of English football. The British government set itself a test to hit that number nationally by the end of April. On April 30, it announced 81,000 tests had been conducted.

However, capacity is set to increase considerably and the government's shift towards contact tracing -- tracking and testing infected people before isolating them -- would create a more receptive environment to the idea of tests being focused on one specific area, in this case, football.

A working medical group set up by government has been created to help explore these issues and also met "to step up planning on what may need to be done so that athletes could return to training, when it is deemed safe to do so," according to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

"At a meeting of Premier League Shareholders today, clubs discussed possible steps towards planning to resume the 2019-20 season, when it is safe and appropriate to do so," A Premier League statement read.

"It was reiterated that the thoughts of all are with those directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Furthermore, the Premier League's priority is the health and safety of players, coaches, managers, club staff, supporters and the wider community.

"The League and clubs are considering the first tentative moves forward and will only return to training and playing with Government guidance, under expert medical advice and after consultation with players and managers.

"The League welcomed the creation of the government medical working group for a return of elite sport, which met for the first time this morning.

"No decisions were taken at today's shareholders' meeting and clubs exchanged views on the information provided regarding 'Project Restart'.

"It was agreed that the PFA, LMA, players and managers are key to this process and will be further consulted.

"The clubs reconfirmed their commitment to finishing the 2019-20 season, maintaining integrity of the competition and welcomed the government's support."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's declaration on Thursday the country was "past the peak" has raised hopes his government will soon ease the lockdown measures which have been in place for several weeks.

The date by which the government has stated it will review the lockdown is May 7, providing greater clarity for the clubs as they reconvene a day later.

The EFL announced the youth academy season in England has been terminated due to the COVID-19 crisis, including under-23 matches and the Central League -- a competition for reserve team players looking to break into their respective first teams.

Elsewhere across Europe, top divisions are either suspended or cancelled. Paris Saint-Germain have been declared champions of Ligue 1 with the league season cancelled while the Eredivisie in Netherlands has also finished but with no champion crowned.