WHEN the Prem announced the fifth match postponement this weekend due to another hellish Covid outbreak, I was reminded of the Simon & Garfunkel lyrics 'Hello darkness my old friend…'.
In some ways it seemed inevitable — there have been 11million Covid cases in the UK and this new Omicron variant multiplies 70 times faster in the air than Delta, according to recent studies.
New cases of the virus are currently going through the roof.
At this rate, I fear we will all get it at some point. That is why the NHS has announced it will return to its highest level of emergency readiness.
Last year I sat on the Prem’s Curtailment Working Group which set out new rules for all clubs during a pandemic, including a Covid postponement guidance.
The first principal is that if you have 14 fit players your fixture must go ahead.
So I can understand why people are scratching their heads wondering why games are being postponed.
I know we were when we got the call from the Prem to say that Norwich had requested the postponement as they had a mixture of injuries, illness and Covid, leaving them with only nine players.
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It’s a shame really as we also have injuries, but no Covid.
For other teams who might be been able to cobble together 14 players, they have also had their training ground closed by Public Health England.
If you have no training ground, how are you meant to prepare properly for the match?
And if you are in the middle of an uncontrolled outbreak, the risks to the opposition and other people with whom you may come into contact has to be considered. Hence these games are called off.
But the lyrics I am reminded of come from the song The Sound of Silence — which is something we are all determined won’t be the case from inside our stadiums this season.
The good news is that football is better prepared to deal with Covid this time around because of all the clubs’ pro-active work through the season — and the tremendous efforts of our operational staff to keep supporters and players safe.
New measures for supporters include pre-match registration requiring them to declare their Covid status — that they are symptom-free and hold a valid NHS Covid Pass ahead of arriving at the stadium, or evidence of a negative test in the previous 48 hours.
SPOT CHECKS WILL INCREASE
Spot checks will increase to 20 per cent of the crowd, including turnstile checks and automatic rejection of disqualified supporters.
Face coverings for all indoor parts of stadiums will be reintroduced.
Players have been advised to minimise social interaction; always wear face coverings indoors; socially distance; limit treatment time and, of course, be vaccinated and have the booster.
We have increased the testing regime on players to include daily lateral flows.
They are to be administered on a test-and-wait (in cars) basis until one is negative, when they can then enter the trading ground, plus twice-weekly PCR tests, with one of those tests ideally being on 'Match Day 1'.
Finally, only essential visitors can go to training grounds, and be in red zones on match days.
The first priority of all clubs is the health and well-being of our players and supporters.
We know the impact of games behind closed doors. It cost Prem clubs £2billion last season and also lost broadcast revenue running into hundreds of millions.
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We do not want to see that happen again and are doing everything in our power to ensure it doesn’t.
Only the government can force games to be played behind closed doors, and bearing in mind the money they want the Prem to pass down the pyramid, I am sure that they will do everything in their power to ensure we don’t hear that sound of silence. As will we.
Clubs will meet on Monday at the Prem shareholder meeting to discuss how to keep the games on, not call them off.
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