Return of Premier League football is major milestone towards normality, says UK minister

Britain's Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden in  10 Downing Street on May 30, 2020.
Britain's Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden in 10 Downing Street on May 30, 2020.   -  Copyright  Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street via AP
By Alice Tidey

Britain's Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that although elite football can resume behind closed doors, the situation for the performing arts is "extremely challenging".

Britain's Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden described the return of Premier League football as "an important milestone" towards a return to normality but warned it will be "extremely challenging" for theatres and cinemas to reopen soon.

Speaking during the UK government's daily government briefing on the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dowden hailed the return of "the best league in the world".

Two Premier League matches will take place behind closed doors on Wednesday evening: Aston Villa vs Sheffield United, followed by Manchester City vs Arsenal.

Professional football was suspended in the UK on March 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and upcoming matches will be played behind closed doors as large gatherings remain banned in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

"No doubt this is a hugely symbolic moment," Dowden said, adding that "the world will be watching" with all but five countries expected to air the two elite football clashes.

The culture minister urged fans to watch from home and not to congregate to stadiums or other public places to cheer on their sides and announced that the government has negotiated for a third of Premier League matches to be made available on free to view television.

Extended highlights of the matches will also be made available on free to view TV, he said.

Dowden also announced that talks are underway with the sector to get grassroots and community sport back and running which will happen in early July "at the earliest".

Work is also underway to find ways for the cultural sector and in particular performing arts, to resume their activities but Dowden stressed that it would be "extremely challenging" for venues to reopen in early July.

Social distancing rules — currently set at two metres in the UK — are particularly burdensome for theatres, Dowden conceded, which rely on "wafer-thin margins" to survive and therefore need crowds.

A further 184 people have died form COVID-19 in the UK over the previous 24 hours, the Department of Health and Social care has announced, taking the total number of fatalities so far to over 42,000.

The number of infections is nearing 300,000 after a daily increase of 1,115.

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