The Premier League is about to enter its busiest period of the season, with 40 games (along with the four Carabao Cup quarter-final matches) scheduled to be played in a span of 17 days from this Saturday. However, a resurgence of COVID-19 cases threatens to unleash chaos on the list of encounters.
This weekend’s game in which Manchester United will host Brighton’s visit was the fifth Premier League game postponed in a six-day period, due to a COVID-19 outbreak that has wreaked havoc on one’s squad. of the participating teams. The meetings between Leicester and Tottenham (Thursday), Burnley vs. Watford (Wednesday), Brighton vs. Tottenham (Sunday) and Brentford vs. Manchester United (Tuesday) were also subject to suspensions due to several positives on their teams.
At his press conference last Thursday, Brentford manager Thomas Frank (who confirmed that his club had registered 13 positives in the last round of testing), urged the Premier League to postpone this weekend’s fixture, stating that “COVID-19 cases are coming off the roof in every Premier League club, everyone is dealing with it and having problems.” Several sources indicate to ESPN that a group of clubs have come to press to demand a suspension of the games until New Year, considering the increase in the numbers of cases.
The problems suffered by football in the UK as a result of the coronavirus are a reflection of society in general. The country registered 88,376 positives this Thursday, the highest number nationally since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. This week, the Premier League introduced emergency measures, in an attempt to reduce the risk of outbreaks within clubs. and ensure that scheduling can be carried out without interruptions. However, soccer faces a turbulent period in the coming weeks. How will the Premier League be able to hit a safe path amid this latest COVID-19 outbreak?
What is the current situation?
The Premier League reported 42 positives for COVID-19 among footballers and coaching staff at its 20 clubs between December 6 and 12, the highest weekly record since comprehensive testing began in May 2020. After outbreaks in At Tottenham, Manchester United, Watford and Brentford campuses this week, the record number of positives is expected to hit a new high when the Premier League releases its statistics at the end of the current round of testing.
The postponement of Tottenham’s Europa Conference League engagement against Rennes (initially scheduled for December 9) due to 13 positives on their roster, was quickly followed by the suspension of their December 12 Premier League match against Brighton. The domino effect is evident, with Brentford-United and Burnley-Watford also falling victim to COVID-19. However, Tottenham’s trip to clash in Premier League engagement on Leicester’s court was postponed just hours before kickoff after Leicester reported nine positives on Wednesday, with Tottenham still grappling with the aftermath of its outbreak, that resulted in 15 positives among players and coaching staff.
The Premier League rules stipulate that matches must be played if there are at least 14 players available in suitable physical condition; however, this rule is open to interpretation, depending on the age and experience of the players considered fit to play.
Will there be a temporary suspension of matches?
This is a fast-moving situation. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that the country faces a “seaquake” of infections due to the Omicron variant, and several sources have indicated to ESPN that the Premier League will ultimately be guided by the recommendations and instructions issued by the government. However, as of this date, the Premier League has no plans to suspend its match schedule. On the contrary, it has decided to analyze the situation of each party individually.
The criterion within the Premier League is that there is sufficient space within the schedule to reschedule matches, and it is their wish that suspended matches be played as soon as the schedule allows. Although various sources within the Premier League have claimed that May 22 is a “definitive limit” on the league season, the absence of major tournaments during the summer due to the Qatar World Cup being played in the winter ( between November 21 and December 18) gives some scope to extend the season if absolutely necessary.
The clubs have asked the league for a full suspension and while the request is being considered, it is clear that some clubs are already facing problems with their schedule. Tottenham must reschedule their meetings against Brighton and Leicester, as well as their clash with Burnley, postponed last month by snow. They are also still trying to get a date to play against Rennes in the UEFA Europa Conference League, a situation that has become increasingly complicated as France announced the closure of its border with the United Kingdom for this Saturday due to the COVID-19 situation.
What are the Premier League and its clubs doing to prevent outbreaks?
On December 13, the Premier League announced the implementation of its emergency measures in an attempt to reduce the transmission of the virus between clubs. That means players and coaching staff must be tested on a daily basis; specifically, one lateral flow device (LFD) test and two PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests per week. Any positive in LFD should be followed by PCR.
Additionally, a PCR test must be done on the day of the match. Various sources have indicated that such tests have played an increasing role in suspending matches at the last minute, as was the case in the Burnley-Watford crash.
A mask should be used within training complexes and stadiums when indoors, social distance measures have been re-implemented and treatment hours have also been limited. Likewise, the so-called “red zones” (areas within training complexes and stadiums restricted to players and coaching staff) have been reestablished and clubs have been instructed to resume press conferences by videoconference, after having recently allowed the return of journalists to training camps.
Since the British government has not ordered the society to undergo a quarantine, the Premier League does not insist on its clubs in implementing security bubbles for players and coaches. However, clubs have been urged to promote the benefits of vaccine booster doses as the best defense against COVID.
Are players encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19?
It is not completely known whether footballers are vaccinated or not. The Premier League has not released figures since it revealed last October that 68 percent of players had a full course of vaccination and that 81 percent had received the first dose. Various sources have told ESPN that concerted pressure within English football since October to urge footballers to get vaccinated has resulted in an increase in vaccinated players. However, there are still some athletes who continue to play and train without being vaccinated.
Renowned coaches such as Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) and Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) have urged their players to get vaccinated; however, the Premier League has not imposed mandatory vaccination. On the contrary, it has decided to resort to the recommendations and messages of the British government.
What is the procedure for postponement of matches? Why are they suspended so close to the start?
Earlier in the week, Norwich manager Dean Smith indicated that clubs needed “guidance” on rules and regulations regarding postponements related to COVID cases. However, several sources linked to the Premier League have told ESPN that all clubs voted on the implementation of protocols, which are established in the Article 17 of the Premier League Manual, so there should be no confusion. However, the procedure is full of loopholes. In theory, matches should be played if clubs have 14 eligible players; but if some of them are youthful youth youth without experience, it enters a gray zone.
A club must contact the Premier League offices and several factors are taken into account, including the level of available players, whether the training ground was closed and whether or not the outbreak is controllable. The safety of players and coaches (of both teams) is the fundamental factor in the decision to postpone or not. The criteria of the television stations does not come into play, as evidenced by the suspension of games scheduled for broadcast this week.
However, there has been criticism regarding the timing of the decision to suspend the games at Brentford and Burnley this week. The postponement of the Brentford home match against United, initially scheduled for Tuesday, was announced around midnight on Monday. For its part, the clash between Burnley and Watford was postponed less than three hours before the scheduled kick-off time.
Several sources have indicated to ESPN that matches are suspended as soon as positives are confirmed and that, as the public has discovered during the pandemic, such results can be delivered at any time of the day.
And what about the fans? Will we see games behind closed doors in England again?
As for the possibility of matches played behind closed doors, it is an issue that will be left to the government and there are currently no plans to close stadiums. Therefore, the Premier League adheres to Plan B of restrictions imposed by the British government, which means that all complexes with a capacity greater than 10,000 people (which includes all stadiums where the Premier League is played) must adopt a system to check that spectators carry a certificate of vaccination against COVID or a negative in LFD tests done in the 48 hours prior to admission.
Various sources claim that checking the status of each fan is impractical for clubs: hence, the Premier League has instructed its clubs to randomly check at least 20 percent of their viewers. This is due to the bottlenecks caused by the large number of fans who enter the stadiums between 10 and 15 minutes before the start of the game and the impossibility for the entrance staff to control each of them, without delaying the whistle. initial or cause congestion at the entrances.
The use of masks is not required for fans inside the stadium.
Then what will happen? Will the Premier League manage to get through the storm without problems?
That is the question that currently no one can answer. Medical and scientific advisers working for the British government have warned that at least 200,000 COVID infections will occur daily in the week leading up to Christmas. Dr Jenny Harries, CEO of the UK Health Security Agency, said Wednesday that the statistics to be recorded in the days to come will be “staggering”. That is the landscape within which English football currently operates, so it would be naive to expect the Premier League to be immune to the problems facing society.
We are likely to see more postponements in the coming days. The question is whether we will have a manageable figure, or will it become a problem that will require stricter measures.
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The COVID-19 crisis in the Premier League: Will they weather the storm without problems?