Watford chairman and chief executive Scott Duxbury has raised concerns over neutral venue proposals
Watford have followed Brighton and Aston Villa in publicly opposing the use of neutral venues in the Premier League’s proposed Project Restart plan.
Hornets chairman and chief executive Scott Duxbury says it would compromise fairness and sporting integrity.
It is understood the Premier League will delay a vote on whether to use neutral venues from Monday, when all 20 clubs meet, until later in May.
The proposal needs 14 of the 20 clubs to vote in favour for it to be adopted.
And while three have now made their opposition to the proposal known, it is understood others have similar feelings.
Before voting, clubs are also awaiting government guidance on the criteria for bio-security at events and ground-safety licensing.
‘No semblance of sporting integrity’
“I, of course, absolutely accept we cannot have supporters in the stadium,” Duxbury wrote in The Times. “That goes without saying in the present situation.
“However, we are now told we cannot play our remaining home games at Vicarage Road and the familiarity and advantage that brings. 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.”
‘A distorted nine-game mini league’
The Premier League has been suspended since 13 March but is aiming to resume in June with most teams faced with nine fixtures left to fulfil.
Germany’s Bundesliga will return on 16 May and teams will use their own stadiums for their remaining fixtures.
League Managers Association chief executive Richard Bevan has said the Premier League season could be cancelled if clubs do not agree to play at neutral venues.
Duxbury feels a “safe environment” can be created for the “300 or so” people who would attend a behind closed doors match at Vicarage Road.
He also believes clubs can have “more control” over their own fans if fixtures are played at their stadia. Some, including Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, have raised the prospect of fans congregating at their own stadiums even if fixtures have been played at neutral venues.
“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,” Duxbury wrote.
“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.
“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?”
Player contracts a Monday focus
The national lead for football policing, deputy chief constable Mark Roberts, told ITV that clubs should “get a grip” and stop complaining about neutral venues.
However, former football policing commander Owen West told The Guardian that there is “no rationale” for not allowing clubs to use their own stadiums.
Monday’s Premier League meeting will feature a vote on whether player contracts are to be extended until the end of the rescheduled season.
Some players are due to be out of contract at the end of June.
A vote on the necessary medical protocols needed for a return to full training will also not be held as the measures proposed have not been shown to the Professional Footballers’ Association or the League Managers Association.