The Football Association will not take action against three Arsenal Women players who, without the club’s blessing, flew to Dubai over the Christmas period while London was under tier 4 lockdown rules.
Since returning from the United Arab Emirates one unnamed player has tested positive for Covid-19 and Joe Montemurro’s side have asked the Football Association to postpone their Women’s Super League game at Aston Villa on Saturday.
Manchester City’s home match against West Ham is also in doubt on Saturday after four City players tested positive for the virus after spending the festive period in Dubai.
Although only one Arsenal first-team player has tested positive, several of Joe Montemurro’s squad live in shared accommodation and it is understood a few players have been forced to self-isolate.
The Arsenal trio, understood to all be internationals, did not inform club officials of their travel plans when the WSL halted for its festive break but have told executives it was a business trip and permissible under tier 4 rules.
Arsenal are believed to have accepted the trio’s explanations but “reminded them of their responsibilities” while assorted teammates are reportedly furious with the disruption provoked by the three.
Given that the WSL has no contractual rules prohibiting players from foreign travel during the pandemic and that the league was on a mid-season break, the FA is not minded to intervene and, in any case, prefers to leave it to clubs to police their personnel in such matters.
The Arsenal players’ excursion might have gone undetected had Montemurro’s Republic of Ireland international Katie McCabe not posted Instagram images of herself in a bikini on a beach, enjoying the Gulf sunshine with glass in hand. McCabe later said she had flown to the UAE for a meeting with her agent.
Ian Wright, a former Arsenal striker, has used social media to say it would be unfair on a Villa side who have had three WSL fixtures postponed because of coronavirus should the game not go ahead. “Why should Villa be punished, play the game,” Wright tweeted.
The Manchester City quartet travelled – also apparently for commercial reasons – with the club’s consent. At the time, Manchester was in tier 3, with foreign travel to “air corridor countries” such as the UAE allowed but not advised.
Although WSL players routinely undergo Covid tests once a week, City are testing Gareth Taylor’s squad every 48 hours and have told the FA the West Ham game may have to be deferred.
The FA will decide whether any postponements are necessary in the next 48 hours. Despite Pep Guardiola’s men’s side being in the grip of a Covid outbreak no facilities are shared by the male and female teams on the Etihad Campus and there is cautious optimism that the problem within Taylor’s squad may have been contained.