Premier League still the ‘most competitive league in Europe’, says chief executive Masters

Premier League still the ‘most competitive league in Europe’, says chief executive Masters

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The Premier League remains the “most competitive league in Europe”, its chief executive Richard Masters says.

Masters has dismissed the idea that England’s top clubs are pulling away from the rest of the division.

Champions Manchester City finished 20 points clear of fifth place last season – with Liverpool 37 points above fifth spot when they were top in 2019-20.

“I don’t think that is the case,” said Masters, asked if the gap was widening between the top clubs and the rest.

“It certainly hasn’t been proven yet.”

Masters, who took up his position at the Premier League in December 2019, added: “I am expecting this season to be competitive and there are a chasing pack of clubs who want to get into those European places.

“We know the difference that can make to your finances and your overall future. The Premier League is the most competitive league in Europe. We want it to stay that way. I believe it still is.”

With two days until the start of the 2021-22 Premier League season, Masters spoke to BBC Sport’s Simon Stone in a wide-ranging interview in which he discussed issues including players taking the knee, online racist abuse, the return of fans into stadiums and Covid-19 protocols.

Premier League newcomers Brentford will raise the curtain on the new campaign when they welcome Arsenal to the Brentford Community Stadium on Friday, with approximately 300,000 fans set to attend the opening 10-match programme over the weekend.

“It is a momentous moment,” Masters said of the return of fans.

“We are all really looking forward to it. A lot of people have put a lot of hard work into getting to this moment.

“It does feel like it is a return to some sort of normality. We will always be cautious and put safety first.”

‘Players want to take the knee’

Players began taking the knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in June 2020 when the Premier League returned from its 100-day pandemic-enforced hiatus.

However, in February, Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha said he would stop taking the knee, describing the gesture as “degrading”.

Zaha’s decision came less than a week after Brentford said they would stop because they felt the gesture had lost its impact while sections of England fans booed players taking a knee at Euro 2020.

But earlier this month, it was confirmed that players from all 20 Premier League clubs will continue to take the knee as a symbol of their “unity against all forms of racism”, with Masters saying he does not “understand why anyone would want to object to it or boo it”.

“We have said very clearly that anti-discrimination is a massive priority for the Premier League,” he said.

“We won’t tolerate racism in our grounds or online. It should not be part of a professional footballer’s life to have to accept online abuse.

“I think taking a knee is a really powerful, unifying symbol. The players want to do it and we are happy to support that. I really don’t understand why anyone would want to object to it or boo it.

“My hope and expectation is that the vast majority of supporters will support it. We will wait and see this weekend. Obviously it has been going on for a year without supporters in the ground.

“We are not too concerned about any negative reaction because we believe it is the right thing to do.”

In February, Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha said he would stop taking the knee before matches
In February, Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha said he would stop taking the knee before matches

‘We have to keep putting pressure on social media companies’

Masters added that the Premier League is working to stamp out online racist abuse after England players Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were targeted following the Euro 2020 final.

“We have to keep putting pressure on social media companies – we are doing as much as we possibly can,” explained Masters.

“We have a team of people who are working with the police and clubs to try to track these abusive messages, identify the people behind them and try to hold them to account.

“We will continue to try and do that. We have the online safety bill coming through government. We need their help as well to try to deal with this issue.”

‘A raucous atmosphere in a safe environment’

While last season was largely played out in empty stadiums, the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in England means that larger attendances are expected during the upcoming campaign, although some clubs want fans to have proof of negative Covid-19 tests or full vaccination status.

Masters says the Premier League are awaiting “clear guidance” from the government regarding Covid-19 certifications, but says their main aim is to have a “raucous atmosphere in a safe environment” with a new code of conduct for supporters including face masks, signage and various hygiene procedures.

“We are obviously working towards the possibility of Covid-19 certification at some point in the autumn,” he said.

“That is what is going on at the clubs now, trying to prepare for it. Fans should be expecting some sort of difference to normal procedures.”

Acknowledging the possibility of virus outbreaks disrupting the fixture schedule, he added: “We are keeping protocols in place, at training grounds and on matchday, to try and stop that transmission and minimise the possibility of disruption.”

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