Premier League clubs face sanctions if players ignore Covid rules

Manchester United stars broke new Covid rules by celebrating as a group on Tuesday night

Premier League clubs and their players could face tough sanctions if they continue to ignore the top-flight’s updated coronavirus rules, particularly surrounding goal celebrations.

Football’s governing bodies have come under mounting pressure from Government to eradicate the casual breaches of social distancing rules on and off the pitch after a series of high-profile incidents. 

New guidance was issued by the Premier League last week that stated players must avoid ‘unnecessary contact at all times’ including ‘handshakes and hugging’, as well as instructions to wear face masks on the bench and spot checks of dressing rooms and team buses to ensure social distancing measures are being followed.

Manchester United stars broke new Covid rules by celebrating as a group on Tuesday night

Everton players also ignored the rules when celebrating Alex Iwobi's goal against Wolves

Everton players also ignored the rules when celebrating Alex Iwobi’s goal against Wolves

But players have shown no sign of taking the new rules on board as Everton, Wolves, Sheffield United and Manchester United stars all got up close and personal after netting crucial goals in Tuesday night’s fixtures.

The Premier League says that the clubs should investigate and sanction ‘individual transgressions by relevant persons’.

It’s guidance adds: ‘Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action by the league individually against the relevant person, where appropriate, and/or against the club.’

But, according to The Times, players in Wednesday night’s matches and fixtures moving forward will be under even greater scrutiny to ensure the new rules are being followed.

It is claimed the Premier League are ‘expecting that the conduct of players and coaching staff will improve in the coming days’ amid fears rule breaches could force politicians to halt the season.

And sanctions are ready to be put in place if players continue to brazenly ignore the rules while the situation across the UK worsens.

On Wednesday, the UK recorded 1,564 more deaths from Covid-19 and 47,525 new infections. 

Clubs could face sanctions if they continue to break rules, like Wolves players did on Tuesday

Clubs could face sanctions if they continue to break rules, like Wolves players did on Tuesday

Sheffield United players also embraced after scoring in their first win of the league season

Sheffield United players also embraced after scoring in their first win of the league season

The Premier League and FA sent letters to clubs this week to remind them of their responsibilities to follow the new guidance. But the rules were clearly ignored by the teams in action on Tuesday.

It is thought the Premier League is under no immediate threat of postponement with the Government fully focused on battling Covid and implementing their vaccination programme.

But they have made it clear that blatant breaches of the rules in public will not be tolerated and the optics need to change immediately. 

It also comes after breaches of Covid rules by seven Premier League players from five clubs during the festive period, when they attended parties in breach 

Speaking on Wednesday, health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I think elite sport is important because these are tough times, and being able to watch the football on the telly is really important because there’s loads of things that you can’t do.

‘I know that the Premier League really think hard about this . . . they have special arrangements to ensure that the players are safe and they have a testing regime, but I do think that it’s important that everybody respects not just the letter but the spirit of the rules.’  

And sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, also 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.’ 

Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said on Wednesday that footballers should socially distance after scoring a goal. 

Asked on LBC by Nick Ferrari whether footballers should stop celebrating goals with group hugs, Professor Van-Tam said: ‘Every close human contact that is avoidable should be avoided because one in three of us will get the infection and have no symptoms at all.

‘So yes, I’m afraid on the football point, on the sporting point, I do agree with you.

‘Right now let’s be very clear: disease levels are very high across the whole of the country.

‘It would matter a very great deal more if we had a really very patchy distribution of very high areas (of infection) and very low (areas of infection), and sporting exchanges like that would make more of a difference.

Sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, tweeted on Wednesday that players must follow the rules

Sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, tweeted on Wednesday that players must follow the rules

‘But it’s just the basic point for now – and (chief medical officer) Chris Whitty has said this and he means it, and I mean it too – that we right now have just got to stay at home, keep off the streets, keep out of the shops, keep away from each other – unfortunate and unlikeable though that is – and let the NHS do its job dealing with these thousands of people who are sick, and let the NHS do its job rolling out the most ambitious vaccine programme we’ve ever undertaken.’ 

On Tuesday, Dr Julian Tang, a consultant virologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Associate Professor at the University of Leicester, said the way to tackle ‘celebratory scrums’, which are high risk for transmission, is to educate players and then impose a sanction, if only until most of the population is vaccinated. 

‘If you have a scrum you have close contact for several seconds and that can transmit the virus. 

‘You go home and you can spread it among your own bubble that can include elderly friends and family, which could put them in hospital or cause their death. 

‘So, why take the risk to yourself or your contacts from a single 10 or 20 second scrum. You don’t have to do it.

‘If it happens once you get a yellow card and if it happens again you are off.

‘It is a disincentive for that contact, recognising that it could have much bigger consequences.’

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