COVID concerns for fans and integrity over cancelled Christmas games

Seventeen games were postponed but was it fair that some teams had extended breaks?

A Nike 'winter' ball is spray with a disinfectant at the EPL match West Ham United v Burnley, at the London Stadium, London, UK on 16th January, 2021. English Premier League matches are still being played behind closed doors because of the current COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, and government social distancing/lockdown restrictions.

Last month there were major disruptions to the Premier League and other levels of English football due to the rising cases of COVID-19.

Of course, as we all know COVID-19 has caused major disruptions globally over the last two years, however, this is the first time that there have been any real interferences with the game since Project Restart in May 2020.

On December 12, Tottenham’s game against Brentford was called off due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Tottenham camp. 

This was the first game to be called off and since then most teams in the league have had at least one game postponed due to the virus with a total of 17 games before the end of year.

The cancellation of games has led to much discussion over the integrity of the fixtures due to some teams now having extended rests whilst other teams play multiple games a week.

During what is such a busy period within the league, it does seem slightly unfair that some teams are having lengthy breaks where their opponents may play twice in three days. Watford, for example, had a 17-day break ahead of their game against us, in which we only had two days – however, due to the massiveness of our team, Watford weren’t helped by the break. 

Premier League rules on postponement state that matches are only to be rescheduled in exceptional circumstances.

They state that there isn’t a fixed number of player unavailability that warrants a postponement, however, if a club feels affected by the virus, they can apply for their game to be postponed and their case will be reviewed by the league’s officials.

This rather vague rule has led to issues in recent weeks due to some clubs having their applications accepted and others dismissed despite the clubs all feeling that they are severely affected by the virus.

There have been suggestions that some teams are taking advantage of the rules when their fixtures don’t suit them.

For example, Newcastle played Manchester United on December 27, but after losing Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser to injury they asked for their game three days later against Everton to be postponed. This request was approved. 

The real question is where do we go from here? The Premier League has reported that 68% of the league’s players have been vaccinated.

There have been calls for punishments for unvaccinated players such as wage cuts and restrictions on playing, however, the vaccination rate of 68% is fairly representative of the UK as a whole.

Within the UK, 63% of men between 18-24 are double vaccinated and 67% of men aged 25-29 are double vaccinated. 

As such, it would be extremely harsh in my opinion to make it compulsory for players to get the jab despite the health benefits. 

Instead, I think the best plan of action is to continue as we are, offering the vaccine to players and testing regularly. 

It is vital to keep the integrity of the league, and I agree with West Ham in their request to the Premier League that clubs asking for postponement must provide doctors notes for COVID cases and injuries.

Requirements for signed documents may lead to less postponements and better continuity of league games.

I also think it is extremely important for the Premier League, and its clubs to consider the fans in all of this.

There needs to be a cut off time for postponements, possibly 24 hours before the game in which after this, clubs must play the game.

There have been too many occasions already when games have been postponed only a few hours before the game leading to many fans having already travelled and spent money on travel. 

Further, despite the vast number of cancellations, many clubs within the league have already had large COVID outbreaks.

The chance of outbreaks at these clubs is therefore much lower than before and it could be the case that by the end of January postponements may become a thing of the past. 

The only other real alternative is to postpone the league for a few weeks so the cases can pass, however, I don’t think this is something anyone wants due to the financial and wellbeing costs of this. 

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