Everything we know about football's coronavirus postponement and the implications for Sunderland AFC

The outbreak of COVID-19 has seen all professional football in the UK postponed until the beginning of next month at the earliest.
Sunderland's fixtures have been postponed until April 4th at the earliestSunderland's fixtures have been postponed until April 4th at the earliest
Sunderland's fixtures have been postponed until April 4th at the earliest

Here, we wrap up what’s happened, where Sunderland stand, and when you can expect more information on football’s contingency planning to be revealed….

Where do we stand?

The EFL confirmed all fixtures have been postponed until April 3rd at the earliest.

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The decision has been taken collectively with the FA, the Premier League, the FA Women’s Super League and the FA Women’s Championship.

This also includes all academy and youth team fixtures.

For Sunderland, it means that their trip to Blackpool on Saturday has been postponed, and it has also brought official confirmation that their trip to Southend on March 28th has been postponed.

That fixture was already in doubt due to the planned international fixtures in that period.

Northern Ireland internationals Conor McLaughlin, Kyle Lafferty and Tom Flanagan had all been called up, while Jon McLaughlin was expecting to be named in the Scotland squad.

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The situation had been complicated on Thursday, with the Bosnian FA reportedly requesting that their play-off fixture against Northern Ireland be postponed due to the outbreak.

The outcome of that remains unknown, but it will now have no effect on Sunderland’s fixture list.

The club have also confirmed that the Durham Challenge Cup final, due to be played between Sunderland U23s and Spennymoor Town at the Stadium of Light on March 31st, has been postponed.

Why has this happened now?

EFL and Premier League fixtures had been planned to go ahead as normal this weekend as late as last night.

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That was because despite the government announcing that the country was officially moving to the ‘delay’ phase of its coronavirus planning, the official guidance to the footballing bodies was that there remained ‘no medical rationale to close or cancel sporting events at this time’.

That remains the official advice from the government, but the situation within football began to change rapidly on Thursday night.

After Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers confirmed on Thursday that three of his players were self-isolating, Arsenal announced that head coach Mikel Arteta had tested positive for the virus.

Hours later, Chelsea confirmed that Callum Hudson-Odoi has also tested positive.

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Also key was the government’s advice that from today onwards, anyway displaying symptoms should self-isolate for a period of at least seven days.

That has had a significant effect on clubs throughout the country, and was key to the decision today to postpone.

The EFL statement said: “This action, which will be kept under constant review, has been taken due to the increasing numbers of clubs taking steps to isolate their players and staff because of the COVID-19 virus….

“This decision has not been taken lightly, but the EFL must prioritise the health and well-being of players, staff and supporters while also acknowledging the Government’s national efforts in tackling this outbreak.”

One key example of this had been Portsmouth.

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Kenny Jackett’s side had faced Arsenal in the FA Cup last monday. In light of Arteta’s test, players were sent home on Friday and will undergo testing early next week for the virus.

Peterborough United chairman Darragh MacAnthony had also said today that two of his club’s players were in self-isolation.

What happens next and what

The EFL has, alongside the Premier League and the FA, been working on contingency plans as the prospect of a postponement grew.

They are expected to update Sunderland and their fellow Football League clubs on these plans after a board meeting schedule to take place.

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Also crucial is a meeting of UEFA’s key stakeholders next Tuesday.

Having already postponed next week’s Champions League and Europa League fixtures, the governing body will discuss the response to the outbreak and how they plan to proceed.

All domestic and international competitions will be discussed, including EURO 2020.

That is particularly key as any potential change to that tournament could give leagues across the continent the chance to extend their season into the summer, in order to catch up with any fixtures lost in the coming weeks and complete the campaign.

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The UEFA meeting will be attended by representatives of all 55 member associations, the boards of the European club association and European leagues, as well as a representative of FIFPro.

All decisions will of course be dependent on how the outbreak develops.

There remains the possibility that the postponement will be extended beyond the initial April 3rd date.

How does it affect Sunderland in the meantime?

Sunderland have of course been planning their schedule to include the possibility of an extended break after the clash with Blackpool for some time, aware that their fixture with Southend could be postponed.

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Phil Parkinson announced last week that he had informed players that they will not be able to travel abroad in that period.

Speaking last Thursday, he said: “We’ve told the lads they can’t go abroad. Some of them want to go away but we don’t think it is wise for anyone to go abroad.

“That’s a decision we’ve made as a club. We’ve all accepted that. Some were planning to go away but we’ve given ourselves every chance of keeping the virus away from Sunderland AFC.”

The EFL have today also advised clubs ‘to suspend indefinitely all non-essential activities which include, but are not limited to, player appearances, training ground visits and fan meetings.’