The Premier League has issued a hardline directive to its clubs in a bid to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and threatened action against players who break the rules.
A number of managers have argued the case for a pause in the season while the latest wave of Covid engulfs the country but the Premier League continues to insist the show must go on.
All top-flight clubs have now been given an “enhanced” set of measures that ban all shirt-swapping and warn against handshakes or hugging during matches. The new rules would be ratified at the next shareholders’ meeting but, because of the urgency, the proposals will be implemented immediately.
The Premier League is aware of the rising public anger with high-profile footballers who have flouted lockdown rules in recent weeks and has therefore decided to reinforce the message of responsibility to its clubs and players.
In an email sent to clubs, the Premier League said: “It is vital to ensure public, government and stakeholder confidence in the training and matchday protocols that individual transgressions by relevant persons are appropriately investigated and sanctioned by clubs.
“Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action by the league individually against the relevant person, where appropriate (for example, where his or her conduct brings the league into disrepute) and/or against the club (where the relevant person’s conduct constitutes a breach of the training protocol).”
Among the new rules, spot-checks will be carried out within Premier League dressing rooms while more powers have been given to the Covid-19 compliance officers, who each work with two clubs.
Other measures include limiting the numbers of guests in the matchday directors’ box and reinforcing the rule that substitutes should wear face masks while seated. Indeed, clubs have been warned they can only remove masks when playing, warming up or if giving socially-distanced post-match interviews.
Clubs must now use three separate coaches when driving staff while any external workers likely to come into contact with players – in hotels or during transportation – must have returned a negative Covid-19 test. At the training grounds, “clinical passports” will now be used by all players and staff which can be inspected by the compliance officers.
Clubs will also come under increased scrutiny and investigation if they experience a Covid-19 outbreak. This follows previous outbreaks at Newcastle, Fulham, Sheffield United, Manchester City and now Aston Villa. The Premier League can ill afford for the season to be disrupted, and risk facing further rebates to broadcast partners.