Doubts about neutral venues for EPL raised

Brighton & Hove Albion's Amex Stadium has been converted into a COVID-19 drive-in testing centre

Brighton & Hove Albion are the first English Premier League club to publicly oppose plans to try to restart the season in neutral stadiums amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As the COVID-19 death toll surpassed 28,000 in Britain, Brighton chief executive Paul Barber accepted that resuming sporting events would require compromises but said on Saturday that the league's integrity would be damaged if teams could not play at home.

West Ham vice-chairwoman Karren Brady said "no one wants" neutral stadiums but was not as direct in her opposition to the league's "Project Restart" plan, given the need for authorities to approve venues.

Brighton and West Ham are in a scrap to avoid relegation with The Seagulls having five of their nine remaining games scheduled to be played at home.

The Premier League sees using only up to half of the 20 stadiums as the most viable way of completing the season, which was suspended almost two months ago.

Supporters are likely to be prevented from attending sporting events for many months in Britain to limit the spread of COVID-19 infections.

The Premier League, which held a conference call with all clubs on Friday, hopes team training sessions can resume within weeks - after isolated sessions at training grounds started last week at some clubs - but games are not likely to be played for at least another month.

"Clearly, we must all be prepared to accept some compromises and we fully appreciate why playing behind closed doors is very likely to be a necessary compromise to play our remaining games...," Barber said.

"But at this critical point in the season playing matches in neutral venues has, in our view, potential to have a material effect on the integrity of the competition."

Barber said Brighton had not been approached about using their Amex Stadium, which is more isolated than the likes of Anfield, while West Ham also have a venue that fans can be kept away from as it sits on the Olympic Park used for the 2012 Games.

The government and Sports Grounds Safety Authority would have to approve the locations of games during the pandemic.

"They could argue neutral grounds better protect the welfare of all involved and reduce the burden on public services like police and ambulance," Brady said.

"But like everything else, nothing has been agreed."