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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - Ex­clu­sive By Tom Mor­gan sports news Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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