Today’s big question

Coronavirus: should the Premier League carry on playing?

Concerns grow over player goal celebrations, fixture changes and effects of long-Covid

After the stop-start nature of last year’s campaign, the Premier League has managed to play on during the 2020-2021 season. But concerns are now being raised whether English football’s top division should continue amid the current Covid-19 crisis.

With cases increasing, a number of fixtures having to be postponed and goal celebrations coming under scrutiny, it’s being questioned whether the season should be halted.

Safety or the nation’s spirits?

There’s an argument that football is a welcome distraction for many during the upheaval of the pandemic, but Chelsea boss Frank Lampard urged for common sense when it comes to the health and safety of players, staff and officials. 

Earlier this month the former England midfielder rubbished claims that football must carry on to “keep the nation’s spirits up”, iNews reported. 

“We love football but safety has to be paramount,” said the 42-year-old. “There are lots of staff who are working within our bubble who have babies, parents, friends, grandparents who they see when they come home from work. Safety and security is absolutely paramount as opposed to trying to keep the nation’s spirits up.”

Areta: ‘It’s a difficult context’

Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta does believe that sport is helping to raise the nation’s spirits, ESPN reports. But the Spaniard did say that it feels “morally strange” for the league to continue playing.  

“Morally, with the situation we have in the country, with the situation we have worldwide, to keep doing what we are doing is a little bit of a strange feeling,” he said. “We know as well what we can bring to society if we are able to do it in a safe way, then there are a lot of positives to take. It’s just that balance. 

“When this starts to get damaging and worrying and it starts to exploit people, and when we can do it and it’s still safe and we can add something positive. It’s a difficult context.” 

Warnings over goal celebrations

Social distancing on the pitch has been a big talking point this week with the government and Premier League bosses issuing warnings to clubs and players.

In a letter seen by the BBC, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters wrote to clubs about the importance of Covid protocols and reminded them that “handshakes, high fives and hugs must be avoided”.

Government officials have also again asked players to curb their celebrations to limit social contact, the Daily Mirror reports.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston tweeted: “Everyone in the country has had to change the way they interact with people and ways of working. Footballers are no exception. COVID secure guidelines exist for football. Footballers must follow them and football authorities enforce them - strictly.”

Players are ‘brainless’ 

The BBC says the Premier League will meet with club managers and captains to stress that the protocols - that include avoiding “unnecessary contact” - need to be enforced.

On Wednesday Manchester City and Fulham players “crowded together” after goals in their respective matches, The Guardian reports. 

City boss Pep Guardiola defended his players saying “you are just there in the moment, you are not thinking”. But Julian Knight, chair of the digital, culture, media and sport committee, said: “Some of the scenes we have seen have been brainless and give out an awful message.”

Coronavirus outbreak at Villa 

On Monday the Premier League confirmed that between 4-10 January, across two rounds of testing, that 2,593 players and club staff were tested for Covid-19. There were 36 new positive tests.

A number of fixtures have been postponed and others have been rearranged to fill the schedule. 

Aston Villa were meant to play Tottenham on Wednesday but the game was postponed due to an ongoing coronavirus outbreak at the club. Villa’s match against Everton this Sunday has also now been called off. 

Tottenham ended up playing Fulham on Wednesday with the game rearranged at short notice. Fulham manager Scott Parker called the 48-hour notice “scandalous”. He said: “I am angry because it is not right. It is scandalous. It is not acceptable. It is madness. It is wrong. That is why I am so angry.”

Fears over long-Covid

Newcastle United are another club to have suffered from a coronavirus outbreak this season and a number of players have been suffering from the long-term effects of Covid-19, The Guardian reported.

Toon boss Steve Bruce was shocked by the effect the virus had on his players. He said: “It’s not just fatigue, they’ve got other symptoms too. It’s frightening when you think they’re young, fit and supreme athletes.

“If anybody needs reminding of how serious this is, then we have witnessed it. Some of them seem all right but then the fatigue element hits them, but for two it’s beyond that. You wouldn’t think that this long Covid thing is possible in fit, young athletes.”

Chelsea head coach Lampard also revealed his concerns after seeing players hit by long-Covid. He said: “They report tiredness and fatigue and because everything is so new, we don’t have anything to gauge it by. We don’t have the right methods to know how to get players back to a level as quickly as possible. 

“It’s not just us but a problem for the league. This year is different and will be different until we get to the other side.”

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