Leicester’s game against Crystal Palace at the weekend could be postponed, according to Premier League chief executive Richard Masters.
The city was confirmed as the UK’s first area to be hit by a ‘local lockdown’ after a regional flare-up of coronavirus cases, with schools to be closed from tomorrow and the abandonment of national easing measures, set to be implemented on July 6.
Leicester’s King Power Stadium is just south of the city centre which is at the heart of the lockdown zone – along with nearby suburbs such as Birstall and Oadby – meaning games, including the Foxes’ upcoming home fixture against Palace, are at risk of either being moved away or postponed.
Leicester’s game against Crystal Palace could be postponed, according to Richard Masters
Masters told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on Tuesday morning: ‘We’ve had a long discussion with authorities about neutral venues.
‘If what happens in Leicester does impact the club’s ability to host games, either Crystal Palace or later, we have the ability to host those games elsewhere or postpone them until it is safe to do so.
‘On next season, we have broken the boundary of playing football matches behind closed doors when the whole country is effected by COVID. ‘That has been the hardest part. Next season needs to happen as well.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Tuesday that Leicester had accounted for ‘10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week’ and advised against all but essential travel to and from the area.
The Safety Advisory Group (SAG), who have final say on whether Premier League home games are able to go ahead at the intended grounds, will meet later today to discuss Saturday’s game.
Pressed on what impact the extended lockdown could have on Leicester, he added: ‘I’m yet to understand what impact the partial lockdown will have on the club. It demonstrates the fragile project we have on here.
‘Restarting is one thing. Finishing the season is the real prize.’
Masters went on to admit there were no guarantees that the 2019-20 campaign would be concluded if the virus develops in an unexpected manner.
It is unclear whether Leicester will be able to play their next game at the King Power Stadium
‘There is always that possibility, yes,’ he added. ‘We are dependent on the course of the virus and government’s decisions around that.
‘We are cautiously optimistic and what has happened in Leicester overnight is something we are responding to.
‘We have been adapting for a while to neutral venues. We are ready to adapt to what happened in Leicester.
‘If that happened in multiple areas, there is that risk that we might not be able to complete the season.
A spike in COVID-19 cases mean all non-essential shops must close as well as local schools
‘We have to get to the end of the season and the end of July, look to 2020-21 and get fans back into the stadium and hopefully help the economy recover.
‘But that is all dependent on the course of the virus.’
A spike in infections in Leicester means the city has three times more cases than the city with the next highest total.
To arrest its spread, from Tuesday all non-essential shops will have to shut while schools will close their doors to most pupils from Thursday.+7
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers believes the club’s stadium remains a very safe environment
Schools will stay open for vulnerable youngsters and children of critical workers as they did before and people will be able to travel for childcare.
All but essential travel to, from and within the city is being discouraged, while residents are being told to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers is still hopeful the game will be played on home turf.
‘Nothing has changed in terms of how we have been working thus far throughout this situation,’ said Rodgers.
‘I have always said we will react accordingly. We have to have agility in this period. I think in this moment in time we are in the safest place we can be in terms of our work, the stadium also.
‘It is a very safe environment for the games to be in. We will just keep working until we are told otherwise.’
Rodgers was also asked if he feared his side would be at a disadvantage if they are forced to play at a neutral ground. ‘It is something I am not really thinking of. It is all hypothetical at the moment. We will just continue with our work.’
Prior to next weekend’s clash, Leicester travel to Goodison Park to face Everton on Wednesday on the back of a 1-0 defeat by Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.