A deal for the Premier League to support lower-league clubs during the coronavirus pandemic “could be reached this coming week”.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said England’s top division needs to “start looking after the football family as a whole” and he was hopeful an agreement could be made over the coming days.
“I’ve been in touch with the Premier League a lot over the past few days. They are working closely with the EFL to see how they can support them,” said Dowden.
“The Prime Minister and I have been clear: the Premier League needs to start looking after the football family as a whole, and indeed they are having productive conversations.
“I am hopeful that they will reach a deal this coming week in relation to that, and then beyond that, look across at all sports.”
The fan pilot programme, which had already been restricted to 1,000 people per game in September, has been paused. Dowden said there had been no positive cases from pilots that had already taken place but that under advice from the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer, “it would not be wise to undertake any further easements”.
“It’s not just in the stadium, it’s the journey to and from the stadium as well. At each of those points there are chances for further social interaction and risk of virus spreads, so right now is not the time to do it,” he said.
Dowden added that the Premier League “appreciates” its help is needed to support EFL clubs, and that he is confident an agreement will soon be reached.
It is not yet known when fans will be able to return, with current government restrictions likely to remain in place for six months.
But Dowden said the government was working with clubs and medical advisers to seek “further innovations” to decrease risks.
“We are continuing to explore what would be the ideal solution in the absence of a vaccine which would be if you have large amount of in-day testing to give people a so-called freedom pass to be able to go into those stadiums,” he said.
“We are exploring that, we are exploring further technological innovations, but we are also looking at how we can support the clubs through this difficult period.”