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It could cost lives – Brighton chief Paul Barber urges caution over restart plan

Barber has made Brighton’s opposition plain from the start.

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Brighton chief executive Paul Barber says a premature return from coronavirus could “ruin lives” (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber says a premature return from coronavirus could “ruin lives” (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber says a premature return from coronavirus could “ruin lives” (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber has warned a premature return from the coronavirus pandemic could “cost lives” as opposition continues to grow to the Premier League’s Project Restart.

Watford became the latest club to rail against plans to end the season at neutral venues, with chairman Scott Duxbury saying the league has a “duty of care” to address concerns about a “distorted nine-game mini-league”.

Barber has made Brighton’s opposition plain from the start but he ramped up his concerns, telling the Daily Mail: “We have got to be careful that we do not misstep here because if we do, it could ruin lives. It could cost lives. And we cannot afford that.”

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Brighton have reiterated their opposition to Project Restart (Daniel Hambury/PA)

Brighton have reiterated their opposition to Project Restart (Daniel Hambury/PA)

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Brighton have reiterated their opposition to Project Restart (Daniel Hambury/PA)

Ahead of Monday’s crunch meeting of top-flight shareholders, Watford, Brighton and Aston Villa have now made their opposition to the current plans clear.

The plan to use neutral grounds for the remaining 92 fixtures sticks in Duxbury’s craw, with Watford 17th in the Premier League and looking to stave off relegation amid a challenging backdrop brought by Covid-19.

“There is no altruism in the Premier League,” he said. “There are 20 different vested interests, which sometimes align but more often than not work purely to protect each individual club.

“That is why some clubs are happy to sign up to ‘Project Restart’ because arguably there is only an upside in participating in this compromised format; it means Liverpool can win the title, other clubs can book their place in Europe next season or potentially fight their way up the table from a position of safety.

“But when at least six clubs — and I suspect more — are concerned about the clear downside and the devastating effects of playing in this kind of distorted nine-game mini-league, then I believe the Premier League has a duty of care to address those concerns.

“If we start and finish a whole season under these conditions and at neutral venues when everybody knows the rules when we start, not created in a time of crisis, then that is clearly fair.

“To be asked to finish a quarter of the season under new rules and conditions is an entirely different proposition.

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Watford will not be allowed to play Vicarage Road as it stands (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Watford will not be allowed to play Vicarage Road as it stands (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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Watford will not be allowed to play Vicarage Road as it stands (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“How can the long-term future of clubs be determined under these fundamentally changed conditions? How is there any semblance of fairness? To wave aside all the fears and concerns is too simplistic.

“Surely all 20 clubs must agree the fairest way forward to complete the season? I hope we can now come together and find a solution to enable the season to end safely and fairly.”

Duxbury accepts matches must be played behind closed doors due to the ongoing coronavirus situation but having to play away from Vicarage Road is not an idea he buys into.

“We are now told we cannot play our remaining home games at Vicarage Road and the familiarity and advantage that brings,” he said on the club’s website.

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Watford sit 17th in the Premier League (Nigel French/PA)

Watford sit 17th in the Premier League (Nigel French/PA)

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Watford sit 17th in the Premier League (Nigel French/PA)

“This against a backdrop of players who, having seen their lives turned upside down along with the rest of the world, are suddenly expected to perform as if nothing has happened, despite the rest of society probably still facing the kind of restrictions unenforceable on a football pitch.

“We have club medical staff working under conditions that no doctor or physio has ever experienced with guidelines that, in no small part, are based at this stage on supposition rather than scientific fact.

“And with all these compromises and health risks we are asked to finish a competition that bears no resemblance to the one we started, which could end a small club like Watford’s time in the Premier League.

“So is this fair? Does it have any semblance of sporting integrity? Of course not.”

PA