The Premier League’s chief executive has told MPs it was “regrettable” Liverpool fans congregated in the city to celebrate their team winning the title.
Richard Masters said the gatherings were “not in line” with appeals to fans to stay at home, and likened the scenes to those on beaches and at street parties during lockdown.
He added “individuals have to take responsibility for their own actions” and his organisation was in contact with clubs to remind them of their responsibilities.
Appearing before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee to discuss the restart of the season, Masters also spoke about the Black Lives Matter protests and the prospect of using biological passports to get fans back into stadiums, and confirmed Liverpool would remain champions if the season was curtailed.
Asked about the deliberations surrounding the proposed £300m takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), he said he hoped the process would “conclude shortly”.
He said the restart of the Premier League season – with 25 of the remaining 92 matches completed – had been a case of “so far so good”, and there were contingencies in place to respond to the lockdown in Leicester.
Liverpool were crowned Premier League champions for the first time last Thursday as Manchester City lost 2-1 at Chelsea.
A day later, thousands of people celebrated on the city’s waterfront, despite restrictions on gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The club said it was “wholly unacceptable” and manager Jurgen Klopp wrote an open letter to fans.
Master said: “No-one obviously wants to stop Liverpool fans celebrating. But the way that happened, we would support what the club said afterwards, which condemn those actions. They’re not in line with what the club has asked Liverpool supporters to do.”
Asked if the Premier League should take responsibility given the perceived inevitability of celebrations, Masters said: “What happened that night is regrettable. It was wrong. In the end, we are not in control of individuals’ actions.
“And so I think it obviously got out of hand in the same way we have seen gatherings on beaches, street parties and all these sorts of things going on within wider society.”
Black Lives Matter protests
Since the Premier League restarted, players and officials have taken a knee at the start of matches in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
And players’ names were replaced on the backs of shirts by ‘Black Lives Matter’ for the opening 12 games.
Given that, Masters was asked about the Premier League’s stance on similar protests and campaigns in future.
He said the organisation had backed a centralised effort because of the “unique set of circumstances”.
“I don’t think it sets any particular precedent,” he added.
“I think it is perfectly possible to support Black Lives Matter the sentiment without being seen to support any political organisation.”
Pressed on the kinds of campaigns the Premier League would support in future, he said: “Politics – no. Moral causes – yes, when agreed.”
The proposed Newcastle takeover deal is 80% financed by Saudi Arabia’s PIF. It is still waiting approval via the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test.
Earlier this month, the World Trade Organization ruled Saudi Arabia helped breach international piracy laws, though the country has always said there is no link between its government and the alleged piracy by broadcaster beoutQ.
John Nicolson MP asked a series of questions about broadcasting piracy and Saudi Arabia’s human rights record in relation to the proposed takeover of Newcastle.
He said it would be “humiliating” for the Premier League if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman passes the owners’ and directors’ test when One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson failed in his attempted takeover of League One Doncaster Rovers in 2014.
Masters repeatedly referred to the confidentiality of the process, but did indicate it had been complex.
“There is no timetable set as part of the rules, there is no particular timeframe that these things normally take,” he said. “Some takeovers are straightforward, others aren’t.”
He would not give a date by which he thought it would be announced but said: “All processes have to conclude and I would like the process to conclude shortly.”
Return of fans
Since the restart, Premier League matches have been played in empty stadiums, and Masters said the return of fans is “vital” for the Premier League and “critical” in the English Football League.
He said there were ongoing discussions with the government about how and when this might happen and it is a topic that is “looming large on our agenda”.
The Premier League, he said, had volunteered to act as “guinea pigs” for various solutions, one of which might be the use of technology, in the form of biological passports, to clear fans to attend grounds without having to comply with social distancing.