Premier League sides criticised for setting bad example on holiday
Scientists say teams told to ‘go beyond’ Government advice Individuals from different clubs have mixed at resorts
Premier League footballers have come under scrutiny from senior scientists for apparently failing to adhere to social distancing during their off-season holidays.
A host of players and staff have been pictured in close contact with friends from other households as well as other teams during breaks in Spain, Portugal and Greece.
Prof Gabriel Scally, president of the epidemiology and public health section of the Royal Society of Medicine, raised concern over the example set to young communities. “Most people would assume the images are in keeping with the lifestyle of a young professional footballer who doesn’t really care too much whether they get a virus or not,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
Premier League squads are subjected to tests twice weekly as part of strict rules to keep the game safe and players have already recorded an increase in positive Covid-19 results since returning for pre-season.
Epidemiologists said it was likely overseas travel plans played a part.
While UK rules do not strictly apply to those in foreign jurisdictions, Carl Heneghan, a professor at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, said teams should have been under orders from clubs to go “beyond” UK advice while in public view.
“Because of their profile in sport, they have to be washing and adhering to the hand hygiene protocols,” he said. “They must be hypervigilant as it gets very confusing.”
In the UK, social distancing must be maintained between all who do not share the same household. “You should only have close contact with people outside of your household if you are in a support bubble with them,” the guidelines add.
Under new quarantine rules initiated amid fears of a second wave in Europe, Chelsea instructed their players to stay away from quarantine zones such as France, Spain and Portugal. Several team members instead travelled to the Greek resort of Mykonos, apparently due to lower levels of Covid risk.
However, some squad members, including Tammy Abraham, are thought to have come into contact with players from other clubs, including Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, who had previously been pictured sitting in close contact in Ibiza with Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City’s James Maddison.
Sources close to one of the players suggested the group had acted no differently than any other holidaymakers. Grealish, who previously apologised for flouting government guidelines to remain at home after agreeing to visit a friend during the early stages of lockdown, made no secret of his summer trip, posting various pictures
‘Mixing socially with no social distancing, with alcohol, is a general recipe for disaster’
on Instagram, including one of him planting a kiss on a friend’s cheek.
However, Prof Heneghan said all professional sports given the green light to return since lockdown should face extra pressure to adBy
here to the UK Government guidelines even when abroad.
“The important issue for footballers and professional sports is they have received privileges denied to the wider public,” he said. “Therefore, it’s incredibly important that they act in the best interest of society, understand the sacrifices that people in Oldham are making, who are losing their jobs, losing their livelihoods, because they can’t operate in their workplace.”
If players “are not prepared to take the lead, they will have to pay the consequences for that in future policy decisions”, the professor added. “If we see people not adhering to social distancing and leading to outbreaks, then that will have a significant impact on some of these professional sports. So they have to now step up and consider their position in wider society.”
Whitehall sources said there had been no government instructions to the Premier League to ensure players adhere to social distancing while away. Local guidance on social distancing and group numbers vary regionally in many countries, including Spain, Greece and Portugal, where the majority of players travelled in recent weeks.
Prof Scally, meanwhile, a key member of the Independent Sage group, which holds the Government’s scientific advisory group to account, said he would have liked to see players avoid “unnecessary” international travel altogether.
“Mixing socially with no social distancing, with alcohol, is a general recipe for disaster,” he said.
“But in an international setting, with people coming from all over the place, and being uninhibited and mixing, it is high-risk behaviour. The question is not so much the risk to them, it’s what they go on to do by travelling somewhere else and then coming to the UK.
“It’s not a pretty picture for a group of professionals, who should be trying to be role models, particularly for young people in this difficult period, without sounding too sanctimonious about it.”
The Premier League recorded only 30 positive cases from about 35,000 tests carried out from when football resumed to the end of the season.
Leicester, Tottenham, Chelsea and Aston Villa were contacted for comment.