JEFF POWELL: Football continuing in lockdown is a national scandal

JEFF POWELL: Football continuing through lockdown is a national scandal. The superstar super-spreaders are putting lives at risk on and off the pitch… and Government backing them is a disgrace

  • While the UK is suffering amid a pandemic, professional football is carrying on
  • It is a national scandal as they are only contributing to the spread of Covid-19
  • Don’t be fooled by the Government’s part in all this as they seek rank populism
  • Freedom of speech became a collateral casualty of coronavirus as the Premier League wrote to its clubs to make it clear they will not suspend the season 

Professional football’s manic desperation to carry on playing no matter the cost – the threat to lives and freedom of speech included – is now a national scandal.

So is the government’s connivance in this disgrace under the disguise of its reckless concessions to elite sport.

As more and more footballers test positive for coronavirus, the more they flout the lockdown restrictions imposed on the rest of us, the more they jet off for sunshine breaks on the pretence it is work, the more danger to the community around them.

Premier League players are becoming Superstar Spreaders of Covid-19. Not only because of their up-yours partying, their late night car crashes and their arrogant, disingenuous apologies. The way they conduct themselves on the pitch is putting us all in greater jeopardy.

Their mass hugging, kissing and collapsing into piles of writhing bodies when one of them somehow manages to score a goal is not only embarrassingly infantile but a gross breach of the regulations under which the game was permitted to resume.

Not even the managers, who are supposed to keep them under control, can resist embracing each other.

Tottenham trio Sergio Reguilon, Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso along with West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini broke rules to party despite Covid-19 restrictions in place over Christmas

Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic (left) celebrates at a New Year’s Eve party with Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic  – in another breach of Covid-19 rules by Premier League footballers

Their conduct on the pitch isn’t helping matters too as they continue to embrace in celebration

When they eventually make it home – via their jollies with so-called ‘models’ ferried in for their relaxation – more and more are infectious to their partners and children who in turn mingle with friends and neighbours. Even as the national rates of positive tests and fatalities sky rocket.

And as the days go by since lockdown evicted the 2,000 fans unwisely allowed back into grounds, it is visible on TV that so many more people are filling seats in the stands that it is impossible to believe they are all reserves, officials and key employees. Mates, relatives and favoured hangers-on, more likely.

All for what? You guessed it, for money. The TV rights fees, the obscene wages of top players and – let us not forget – directors led by Manchester United’s Edward Woodward on his £3million-plus per year.

Yet they all scream what a financial catastrophe it would be to stop playing. So why should football clubs be treated so differently from the thousands of shops, pubs, restaurants, gyms, hairdressers – to name but a few businesses – which are going bankrupt in the national interest? Or the millions of workers being made redundant and destitute?

If the clubs need to save cash, then furlough their celebrities in boots on the maximum £2,500 a month and see how they like it. Along with Mr Woodward and Co while they’re at it.

What is not so obvious is the Government’s hidden agenda. The pandering to football – which began with allowing Liverpool to host Atletico Madrid and thousands of their fans from Covid-polluted Spain for a Champions League match – is rank populism. Give the people something to cheer.

The opiate of the masses, football used to be called after the war. Now it is more likely to be the death of us.

This is not the only ‘elite’ sport being given special dispensation – athletes booked for the Tokyo Olympics, which may not happen, will seemingly jump the vaccination queue – but it is the most prolific and increasingly the most virus prevalent. And at least some other disciplines are putting football to shame by tightening their safeguards.

British boxing has led the way by suspending all activity until the end of January, at the earliest. Rugby’s ban on final whistle handshakes is not much more than a gesture in a game of scrums, mauls and rucks but it is a damn sight more than football is doing to curb celebrations.

Last March thousands of Atletico Madrid fans were allowed to travel to Anfield for their Champions League clash at Liverpool – despite Spain’s ever-growing Covid-19 cases back then

Yet who dares to speak out? Only Sam Allardyce, back in management with West Bromwich Albion, who urged the game to take a circuit-breaker as the Covid outbreak spread.

Freedom of speech became a collateral casualty of coronavirus as the Premier League wrote to its clubs to make it clear they will not suspend the top-flight season. This is sinister.

Virtual silence, also, from the Premier League and the FA as they hid behind legal technicalities while refraining from condemnation or sanctioning for outrageous breaches of pandemic protocol by their rich and famous. ‘It’s up to the clubs,’ they chorused. Fat chance there, as the offenders promptly appear on team sheets.

Never mind that every match cancelled, postponed or even played with Covid-weakened teams further accelerates the loss of integrity in all competitions. Nor does anyone in football seem to realise that public confidence and enthusiasm is being eroded by every match played in the artificial sterility of matches devoid of fans and atmosphere.

West Brom’s Sam Allardyce, 66, is the only Premier League boss calling for a circuit-breaker

I am one of millions steeped in this great game. My grandfather played for Bury in their pomp and had me kicking a ball as soon as I could stand. But we want to see football played the way it always has been, for the thrills, the courage, the glory, the endeavour. Not just for the filthy lucre.

Until that becomes possible once more, this deadly nonsense has to stop.

As the risk to public health worsens it won’t be merely an asterisk which needs to appear alongside the roster of champions and cup-winners. It will be a gravestone.

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