The Football Association is to write to clubs for the second time in a week to remind them of the importance of following coronavirus protocols, after several instances marred the third round of the FA Cup.
From crowds gathering outside Marine’s tie with Tottenham, to scenes of socially non-distant celebration after Chorley’s giant-killing of Derby and Eberechi Eze’s unauthorised and unmasked appearance at QPR’s tie with Fulham, football again found itself under scrutiny.
With rule infringements coming alongside outbreaks of infection and dozens of matches being postponed, rumours have spread of an impending suspension of elite sport. Although such an outcome does not appear imminent there is no doubt authorities are facing a challenging environment when every bad headline is received with a grimace by those desperate to keep football’s show on the road.
Last week the Premier League responded to a worsening situation by tightening its Covid-19 protocols. The changes followed outbreaks at a number of clubs and players breaking lockdown rules over Christmas and New Year. New rules aimed to make club environments safer, including a new “red zone” at training grounds where only “relevant persons” are permitted, and requiring players to travel to matches in three coaches, up from two.
The EFL tightened its regulations at the same time and the FA wrote to clubs in the Cup to remind them of its rules and the importance of following them. Now they are to be written to again, with an emphasis not only on observing the protocols as written but on subscribing to their spirit.
The Guardian understands none of the revised protocols prevent celebrations among teammates after scoring or in a dressing room after a match. But they do emphasise the importance of social distancing. As such, photos such as those that appeared from the Chorley dressing room and from Crawley where the League Two side knocked out Premiership side Leeds with the help of reality TV star Mark Wright, are regarded as sending the wrong message to the public.
The FA is also to consider issuing a disciplinary charge against Crystal Palace’s Eze after he was spotted in the stands on Saturday watching his old club QPR.
Eze was photographed sitting alongside QPR reserves at a distance perceived by some as less than the required one metre. The 22-year-old was not wearing a mask, a direct contravention of the protocols. It was initially unclear how Eze had been able to enter the ground but QPR said the player had asked to watch and Palace said they had not been informed.
QPR’s manager, Mark Warburton, said the mistake lay with them. “QPR as a club have stringent protocols in place that we apply very strongly to every single player and staff member,” he said. “On this occasion we should have declined the request. It’s as simple as that. We made the error.”
Palace said Eze had not told the club about his visit and announcing an investigation into his alleged breaches. “Whilst we recognise Eberechi’s desire to support his former teammates, he accepts it was an error of judgement to attend the match.
“We were also concerned to see pictures of Eberechi not wearing a mask at certain moments and are speaking to him about these apparent lapses, which will be dealt with internally.”
The Premier League announced a slight decline in the number of positive Covid-19 among players and staff. After 2,593 tests taken in the previous seven days, there were 36 positive results. This is down from 40 the previous week, from 2,295 tests.