Government outline latest steps as resumption of Leeds United's promotion quest moves step closer

THE resumption of Leeds United's Championship campaign nudged a step nearer after the government published 'stage two' of its five stage framework for returning to full unrestricted elite sporting competition.

Monday, 25th May 2020, 7:25 pm

'Stage two' of its guidance, published in conjunction with public health officials and sports medical officers, allows for organised, close-contact training, under carefully controlled medical conditions.

But the government have stressed that no sports or service providers should begin at Stage Two without completing Stage One with a formal assessment of safe operability at the end.

The government published phase one of its guidance on May 13, outlining the conditions for an initial return to training subject to a series of strict social-distancing regulations.

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LEADING THE WAY: Leeds United sit top of the suspended Championship campaign after eight draws and 21 victories including the triumph at Middlesbrough, above, as Luke Ayling and Mateusz Klich celebrate Klich's goal. Photo by George Wood/Getty Images.

The EFL then outlined Monday, May 25 as a date for their club's to return to 'tailored training' and United's players were back at Thorp Arch today adhering to Stage One measures and strict social distancing guidelines.

The government advice is geared towards establishing the conditions for stage three of the process, which is expected to be achieved next month with a resumption of sports, including Premier League matches, behind closed doors.

Some of United's players were already back at Thorp Arch training ground last week for individual running and fitness sessions.

Only two individuals from one fellow Championship club have tested positive for coronavirus as part of tests across the division.

Both individuals are from fourth-bottom Hull City who have said that medical confidentiality means the names will not be disclosed.

Those players or club staff who have tested positive will now self-isolate in line with the guidelines provided by the EFL and only those who have tested negative will be permitted to enter training ground facilities.

A total of 1014 players and club staff from all 24 Championship clubs were tested for COVID-19.

The Championship season remains suspended amidst the country’s ongoing battle against coronavirus which halted United’s Championship promotion push in the second week of March.

Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites sit top of the Championship and hold a seven-point cushion in the division’s automatic promotion places with nine games left.

The EFL are still hoping to fulfil the division’s remaining fixtures by the end of July and the YEP understands that the weekend of June 20 is being looked at as a possible date for resuming games.

Should the season be curtailed, Leeds would be crowned champions via the EFL’s unweighted points per game model with the EFL saying promotion and relegation should be retained.

Yet writing exclusively for the YEP in his weekly programme notes, Whites chief executive Angus Kinnear said United still wanted to complete their season on the pitch.

“If Leeds United wanted to be opportunist we could have seized on this ‘point per game’ commitment to push for an early curtailment in concert with some already very vocal self-interests,” said Kinnear.

“However, our intention has always been to do all we can to complete this season where we started it – on the pitch.

“Marcelo and the team are confident that they can continue their rich vein of form into the last nine games and believe that they have earned the right to have the chance to celebrate reaching their goal at Elland Road even though our supporters will only be there in spirit.”

Premier League clubs, meanwhile, who are ahead of Championship clubs in that small group sessions began last week, will vote on proposals for a return to contact training on Wednesday.

Players and managers are to be consulted on the proposals ahead of the 20 clubs meeting as Project Restart plans continue to gather pace amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Results of the latest round of Covid-19 testing, which is taking place on Monday and Tuesday, will also be published on Wednesday.

It is expected that twice-weekly testing will continue rather than be ramped up further, and the proposals will include what to do in the event of a positive test once contact training has restarted.

Government guidelines on contact training stress the need for "meticulous, time and date sensitive, written records of player groups and interactions" to be kept to enable effective tracing should an individual test positive.

It is anticipated that clubs will gradually build up the level of contact, from 'clusters' of two to three players initially, through larger groups of four to 12 before a return to full team training, in line with Government guidance.

Clubs will gather for a second meeting on Thursday, where league chief executive Richard Masters has indicated "wider issues" will be looked at.

Among those discussions could be a restart date.

The league was initially working on four weeks of training - including the small group sessions which began last week - before action could resume.

Based on that, the prospect of action returning in week beginning June 8 or June 15 looks feasible.

No definitive votes are expected on the subjects of neutral venues or curtailment models, but both issues are likely to be discussed further on Thursday.

It is understood there will also be further discussions around broadcasting of matches.

The Government has sought commitments from the league to widen access to the games, with them being played behind closed doors and with restrictions on households mixing still in place.

There have been eight positive results from the two rounds of testing in the Premier League so far, from 1,744 tests.

There has been no action in the Premier League since March 9.

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