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Premier League restart: Can players refuse to play if they do not feel safe?

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The Premier League hopes to resume the season next month, with the government allowing elite sport to return behind closed doors. But with the UK having the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe and second-highest in the world, there are concerns the top-flight could return too quickly.

A number of Premier League managers and players have publically voiced their worries about the proposed June restart.

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce is the latest to say he would respect a player’s decision if they refused to play.

And to get a clearer idea of players’ rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Express Sport has spoken to Safwan Afridi, an employment solicitor at RadcliffesLeBrasseure LLP.

“Technically, by refusing to play or train or comply with reasonable management instructions, a player, staff member or referee would likely be in breach of their contract of employment,” Mr Afridi told Express.co.uk.

“However, if the individual reasonably believes that there is a ‘serious and imminent’ threat to their health, they can refuse to attend work and be protected by the Health and Safety legislation from any detriment suffered as a result (e.g. dismissal/fine etc).

“What is important here is that it is irrelevant if the club/Premier League/FA/PGMOL think that it is safe to return, the legislation focuses on the reasonable belief of the employee.

“It is understandable if individuals with asthma or those that live with vulnerable people are hesitant to return to football, particularly when testing is not as readily available as anticipated.

“But it is important for individuals that are involved in the Premier League to speak with their employer to discuss the risk assessments that they have put in place and decide whether the risk of returning is too great for them and their families.

“We are being told that players will be involved in the discussion around the return of the Premier League, so that is an opportunity for players and staff to air their concerns (preferably anonymously).

“It is less clear if referees are being consulted to the same extent.”

Mr Afridi also says players may end up having to self-isolate away from their families.

The Premier League could follow the same process as the Bundesliga, which returned this weekend after players and staff spend a week quarantining together in team hotels.

“Another consideration for these individuals is the possibility of having to self-isolate away from their family for a chunk of time to restrict the spread of the virus once football resumes,” the solicitor added.

“Can those with dependents legitimately do that without major disruption to their home life?

“It would seem unlikely that any proposal agreed under Project Restart will have such extreme measures.

“But given the Premier League stakeholders desire to get football back up and running as soon as possible, this may be another hurdle they have to overcome.”

Troy Deeney, Sergio Aguero, Danny Rose and Glenn Murray are among the stars to have publically voiced their concerns about the Premier League’s plans to resume.

Chelsea star Willian is one of the latest players to express his view, saying many of his peers feel “uncomfortable” with the idea of returning to action amid the current pandemic.

“Honestly, from what I can see, a lot of players – the majority, I’d say – are uncomfortable with the idea of returning right now,” he told Brazilian outlet Globoesporte.

“We’re really keen to return, we really miss playing and doing what we love.

“But it needs to be safe for us to do so. That’s how we’re looking at it. Our health has to come first.

“So right now, players don’t feel comfortable with the idea of returning until it’s totally safe to do so.”

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