Premier League chief calls on players to follow Covid-19 rules and set a good example

By Dan RoanBBC sports editor
Football has 'got to set a good example' - Premier League chief executive tells BBC sports editor Dan Roan

Premier League players have got to "follow the rules" and "set a good example" over Covid-19 protocols, says chief executive Richard Masters.

Masters wrote to clubs on Wednesday to stress the "critical importance" of adhering to the strengthened protocols.

Clubs were reminded that "handshakes, high fives and hugs must be avoided" and players should social distance whenever possible on and off the pitch.

"The players get it," Masters told BBC Sport.

"They know we're asking them now again to adjust their behaviours on the pitch, in goal celebrations and around the beginning and the end of matches.

"We're asking them to adapt and understand why you've got to follow the rules and you've got to set a good example."

Players embraced after goals in top-flight matches this week.

An anonymous Premier League player told BBC Sport it will be difficult to avoid breaking the new goal-celebration rules, which came in after a rise in coronavirus cases in England.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said footballers must follow Covid-secure guidelines and that "football authorities must enforce them strictly".

So far this season several Premier League matches have been postponed following Covid-19 outbreaks, including Aston Villa's matches against Tottenham on Wednesday and Everton this Sunday.

Masters said the new rules are a "very recent adjustment" and that the Premier League is trying to get the message across "in pretty quick order".

Premier league graphic
Updated guidelines have been issued by the Premier League

West Bromwich Albion boss Sam Allardyce said he was "peeved" that players were being called "irresponsible".

"We're getting tested two or three times a week. We have sterilisers, masks and independent monitors at the training ground making sure we don't do this or that," said Allardyce, who was also critical of the UK government's handling of the pandemic.

QPR striker Charlie Austin told 72+, the BBC's new EFL podcast, that "the raw emotion takes over" after scoring a goal and it goes against natural instinct to not celebrate with team-mates.

"If we set ourselves the target of perfection then we're going to fall short because football - all sport - is played in the moment. It's played with emotion," said Masters.

"It is justifiable and reasonable to expect to adjust the situation, and to be the example on the pitch and that's what we're asking players to do and we've had a good response so far."

Between 28 December and 3 January, 40 Premier League players and club staff tested positive for coronavirus - more than double the previous weekly high, although the league is now conducting two rounds of tests per week.

Several Premier League players have been caught breaching coronavirus rules this season, with Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic and Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy apologising after attending New Year's Eve parties.

"It's very disappointing if you see anyone in football, not just players, breaching government guidelines," said Masters.

"We're in the public eye and we should be demonstrating adherence to those rules as best we can."

Allardyce and Newcastle boss Steve Bruce have both backed the idea of a "circuit break" following a rise in coronavirus cases among players and staff and the outbreaks at clubs that have led to matches being postponed.

Masters said it was the "responsibility" of managers and clubs to "try and complete the season" and that he is "cautiously optimistic" the campaign will be completed on its scheduled finishing date of 23 May 2021.

"We've got a hard stop after that with the Champions League and Europa League concluding before we go straight into the European Championship," he said.

"There is no space in the summer so we have to press forward. We think we've got all of the planning in place to be able to do that, and the collective will to do it."

Masters added he expects there will be further outbreaks before the end of May and that the Premier League have "planned for that eventuality" and will "dynamically reschedule matches to get them back in the schedule".

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