Football

EFL Stops Match-Day Testing to Prevent Fixture Disruption

The English Football League (EFL), which is composed of all professional football clubs in the Championship, League One, and League Two, has announced that match-day testing will be stopped in order to limit the impact of fixture disruption, which has become a potent problem over the festive period. After receiving advice from medical experts, the EFL will now only conduct match-day tests on players if they express symptoms. The Times has the story.

The EFL has scrapped match-day testing for Covid in an attempt to limit fixture disruption for clubs and supporters.

The decision has been taken after consultation with medical advisers after it became clear that the existing requirement was causing concern and uncertainty at clubs as well as affecting fans.

Cancellations of matches due to the combination of Covid and injuries have been widespread throughout the EFL, with last-minute postponements bringing practical and financial challenges.

Over the past week, EFL chiefs have sought advice from medics and have now decided to remove match-day testing, other than for any symptomatic individuals. Correspondence to clubs was circulated yesterday.

The approach is supported by the league’s board, executive and a significant number of club doctors and fits with the EFL’s commitment to play matches. They insist the health and safety of players is not being compromised.

The decision was also taken in the knowledge that players are effectively in a bubble leading up to a game and, for example, may be with the team in a hotel. They are not out socialising.

An EFL spokesman said: “Over the past week, it has become clear that the requirement for match-day testing has caused significant concern and uncertainty at clubs as well as seriously affecting the supporters of those teams.

“As a result, the League revisited the matter with its Medical Advisors and after careful consideration, which included dialogue with a significant number of club doctors, it was determined that the requirement for matchday testing would be removed, except for those individuals who display Covid symptoms.

Worth reading in full.

Don’t Stop People Going to the Football, Prime Minister

Boris is due to meet with Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty later today to discuss what additional Covid restrictions to impose, if any. We already know that he doesn’t want schools to close again and, according to today’s Times, weddings and funerals will also be exempt from any new rules. But what about large sporting events, like football matches? The new rules in Scotland mean that only 500 people can attend games and in Wales they’ll be played behind closed doors for the foreseeable future. Will the Prime Minister be tempted to follow suit?

I sincerely hope not. As I’ve said many times before, the thing I missed the most during the previous three lockdowns was not being able to go and see my beloved QPR. Since we were allowed back into football stadiums in August of last year I’ve tried to go to every single QPR game, home and away, and to date I’ve only missed four. Indeed, my son Charlie and I started a Substack newsletter about following QPR this season that you can find here. The thought of having to go back to watching games on an iPad again is beyond depressing.

So, Prime Minister, if Sir Patrick and the soon-to-be Sir Chris urge you to ban attendance at large sporting events, here is some evidence that you can point to suggesting that such a measure would be pointless:

  • Last year, Chris Whitty said: “The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors.”
  • A systematic review of five studies found that “a low proportion of reported global SARS-CoV-2 infections occurred outdoors (<10%)”.
  • A rapid review of 14 sources of evidence “found very few examples of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 in everyday life among c. 25,000 cases considered, suggesting a very low risk”.
  • An Italian study concluded that “the probability of airborne transmission due to respiratory aerosol is very low in outdoor conditions”.
  • Official figures in Ireland showed that, of the “232,164 cases of COVID-19 recorded in the state up to March 24th this year, 262 were as a result of outdoor transmission, representing 0.1% of the total”.
  • A paper by the PHE Transmission Group noted: “Evidence continues to suggest that the vast majority of transmission happens in indoor spaces; recent reviews considering data from several countries found very little evidence of outdoor transmission for SARS-CoV-2, influenza or other respiratory viruses.”
  • This study from early cases in China found only one outbreak (of two cases) out of a sample of 7,324 infections that could be traced to an outdoor setting.
  • The Cheltenham Festival on March 10th-13th of 2020, which drew crowds of around 250,000 people, has entered folklore as a “superspreader event”, but in fact the evidence that it led to a spike in infections in the locality is threadbare. As the Racing Post pointed out in April 2020, Gloucestershire was one of the parts of the U.K. least affected by Covid: “HSJ statistics for reported COVID-19 positive deaths in England per 100,000 people put Gloucestershire comfortably in the bottom half of a table headed by The Black Country and West Birmingham. … Gloucestershire actually has a lower number of confirmed COVID-19 cases than surrounding counties – the south west itself is very low and within that Gloucestershire is below average.”
  • 25,000 fans were admitted to the NFL Super Bowl in Florida on February 7th, at the height of America’s ‘second wave’, along with 12,000 staff. Even though only a third of fans had been vaccinated at the time, U.S. health officials only found three people who were infected as a result of attending the game.

God willing, Boris will stick to his guns and not impose any further restrictions, as the Daily Mail recommends in a strong leader this morning. But if you’re tempted to do something, Prime Minister, please leave football alone. Like all the other non-pharmaceutical interventions recommended by SAGE scientists, banning attendance at football games will make zero difference to Covid transmission.

Newcastle Football Fans Told To Re-Consider Going to Sunday’s Match

Newcastle’s Director of Public Health, Professor Eugene Milne, has called on Newcastle fans to seriously consider whether they should attend the St. James Park fixture with Manchester United on December 27th, due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Milne has expressed his concern over the lack of social distancing and mask wearing inside sports stadiums, and urged fans to get tested and receive the booster jab before attending the game. BBC News has more.

The fixture against Manchester United is still due to take place, despite six matches being postponed last weekend.

Professor Milne also said he expected the Government to bring in additional restrictions soon.

Omicron is now the dominant form of the virus in most parts of England and there are likely to be more than 3,000 cases in the North East, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

“Will we end up with more measures? I think because there are still many things we don’t know about Omicron there is a bit of doubt about where we need to go,” Milne said.

“If you ask me, honestly, I think it will probably happen with the way things are going.

“The question is when is the right time to do that and that is a question for the politicians, rather than people like me.”

The Magpies are yet to have any of their matches called off because of the current wave of infections and are due to host Manchester United on Monday.

Milne added: “People need to make a choice about whether they are vulnerable, about whether they are likely to expose other people to risk by going.

“The Premier League has done a lot of work to try and get in place vaccine passports and testing checks for the games.

“One of the things that does trouble me is people travelling to and from games and the difficulties of distancing, mask wearing and so on.

“I would make a plea to people to use those measures because they can reduce the potential for risk.”

Worth reading in full.

English Football League Calls for Segregating Players Based on Vaccination Status

In response to the Government’s new measures intending to stop the spread of the Omicron variant, the English Football League (EFL) has reportedly given new guidance to its clubs, consisting of all Championship, League One, and League Two professional football teams, advising that players should be segregated based on their vaccination status. The EFL has suggested this policy in order to prevent transmission and avoid the emergence of Covid outbreaks, which would have the potential of disrupting fixtures over the busy Christmas period. MailOnline has the story.

The 72 clubs across the Championship, League One and League Two are being instructed to think about how they split up their players when travelling to and from matches to try to reduce possible transmission, according to the Telegraph. 

The report also claims that the EFL’s guidance is that goalkeepers within its divisions should not train together to lessen the chance of becoming a “close contact” should there be a positive Covid test and therefore reduce the likelihood of disruption.

The EFL have reportedly sent all of its members new guidance to consider until the end of next month in a bid to prevent matches being postponed over what is a typically jam-packed festive period. While the Premier League has also contacted all 20 top-flight clubs to re-impose their emergency Covid measures, and both football bodies strongly advise against Christmas parties this month. 

EFL players have also been instructed to bear in mind contact “outside of their bubble”, social distancing while at work, including not all sitting down for meals at the same time.

The news comes after Tottenham’s Premier League clash against Brighton, scheduled for Sunday, was postponed due to the Covid outbreak within the camp. Spurs also saw Thursday’s European Conference League match against Rennes called off.

As Covid continues to take grip of English football, top-flight officials have sent a memo to all clubs informing them of the decision to revert back to emergency measures.

Teams have been forced to abide by a stringent set of protocols since the return of football in June 2020, including social distancing and the use of PPE at training grounds, but those have slowly relaxed in recent months thanks to increasing vaccination rates among players.

But the Premier League have told all 20 teams that the long-standing emergency measures are now back in place.

Worth reading in full.

What’s the Truth About Covid Vaccines and Heart Attacks?

A further three football players collapsed during play this week, bringing new interest to the question of what might be the connection between this unusually high number of on-field medical emergencies and the Covid vaccines. Football pundit Trevor Sinclair got into hot water for raising the question on-air, while scientists argued that the disturbing trend is more likely to be a consequence of Covid itself than the vaccines.

Presumably something lies behind the recent rise, which according to some analysts has involved 21 sudden deaths (most heart-related) of FIFA players so far in 2021, compared to around 4.2 in an average year (with a standard deviation of 2.0). Assuming this isn’t a reporting phenomenon, this is an extraordinary spike and highly statistically significant.

The two major unusual factors this year are the presence of SARS-CoV-2 and the Covid vaccination programme. However, only two such deaths were reported in 2020, when Covid was also around, which would seem to lend weight to a vaccine explanation.

The vaccines are known to affect the heart and cardiovascular system in some cases, which is why blood clots and heart inflammation (e.g. myocarditis) are among the side-effects listed and why a number of countries have ceased using some of the vaccines in younger age groups. This means the idea that there could be a link between an unusual spate of heart-related emergencies and the vaccines shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

Five Bayern Munich Players Hit With Pay Cut For Refusing to Get Vaccinated

Five unvaccinated footballers who play for German club Bayern Munich have had their wages docked by the club as they have had to spend time in quarantine due to being in close proximity to a Covid-positive person. The football club had previously stated that they will not pay the wages of any player forced into self-isolation as a result of their personal choice not to receive the vaccine. Recently, the five footballers have also been banned from staying in the same hotel as the vaccinated players due to Germany tightening its Covid restrictions. MailOnline has the story.

Bayern Munich have docked the wages of their five unvaccinated players who were forced to quarantine due to coming into contact with a Covid-positive person. 

Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich, Jamal Musiala, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Michael Cuisance have all been told by the German club that they will not be paid for every game or day of training they miss when self-isolating after they all refused to get the vaccine.

According to German news outlet Bild, Bayern told the players last week that they would be withholding pay if anyone missed work due to being unvaccinated.

The report comes days after Bayern suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of local rivals Augsburg on Friday, which saw Kimmich, the midfield star for both Bayern and Germany, miss the encounter after he was forced to quarantine.

Gnabry started that match, while Musiala and Choupo-Moting came on as substitutes, while Cuisance was an unused substitute. Those four players were all then placed into quarantine following a new exposure to Covid, hours after the reports about pay cuts emerged in Germany.

Their Bayern team-mates Niklas Sule and Josip Stanisic had tested positive for Covid last week, with the club confirming that those two players were vaccinated.

Tensions are high in Germany with the country in the grip of a fourth wave of cases and many hospitals full. It has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe, with 68% of people fully vaccinated. “By the end of this winter everyone in Germany will either be vaccinated, recovered or dead,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday.  

The news of withheld wages comes less than a week after the five Bayern players were told that they have been banned from staying in the same hotel as their team-mates ahead of a match and must travel to games separately too due to tightening restrictions in the country, which is experiencing a spike in Covid cases. 

German news publication Kicker are reporting that the five players are irritated that news of their docked wages has been leaked publicly.

The damning report also revealed that there has been a loss of trust from the players, with team morale low as a result.

Worth reading in full.

Premier League Has “Worst Vaccination Rate” in the World of Sport

Government and sports officials continue to apply pressure on Premier League football which is said to have the “worst vaccination rate in the world”. They have been left wondering how else they can increase uptake now that suggestions of rewards for clubs with high jab rates and an ‘education campaign’ featuring Professor Jonathan Van Tam, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, appear to have fallen flat among players. The Mail on Sunday has the story.

Mail on Sunday survey has found that almost all other top leagues have a much higher vaccine take-up rate than English football.

Even tennis – which has had a similar issue with vaccine hesitancy – is threatening to outstrip English football, with the take-up rate on the ATP Tour having improved by around 20% over the past six weeks.

Rival sports have attributed their success to reasons that include top athletes promoting the jab and tougher restrictions for unvaccinated players, neither of which have happened in the Premier League.

This has been done in some American sports such as the NFL, who have more than 95% of their players and staff fully-vaccinated despite a number of high-profile refuseniks with some franchises as high as 100%.

They credit star players and coaches coming out as strong vocal advocates for vaccination as a key factor in their high number, such as Superbowl-winning coach Bruce Arians.

“That has had a huge impact in dressing rooms,” NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills told the Mail on Sunday. “Young and less experienced players look up to them and want to be as successful in the same way. It speaks to have people who have the trust of the players. That has been incredibly important.”

The Premier League has lacked such a spokesperson among top players with conspiracy theories about virility and heart defects being shared amongst WhatsApp groups.

They were unable to persuade its players to take part in a similar publicity campaign despite myth-bunking [sic] videos from… Jonathan Van-Tam. …

The Premier League still lags behind. Of its 20 clubs, 13 were understood to have vaccination rates of less than 50%, according to a letter sent to clubs in September. This figure is likely to have risen slightly.

The most recent set of Football League figures, revealed by Sportsmail last week, had just 49% of players fully vaccinated. A quarter of EFL players effectively said they were not planning to get jabbed.

Worth reading in full.

A Quarter of Football League Players Don’t Intend to Get ‘Jabbed’

Coverage of the vaccination rates within English football clubs rages on, with the papers and Government figures likely fuming that a quarter of Football League players don’t intend to get ‘jabbed’. Unsurprisingly, reports blame “conspiracy theories” for swaying the minds of the “vaccine rebels”. The Mail on Sunday has the story.

The proportion of footballers who have been double-vaccinated has increased from approximately 18% in August to 49% in the latest set of figures collated by the League.

But the number of players who have been immunised or plan to get the jab has gone up by only 5% over the past month, the Mail on Sunday has learnt.

“Approximately 75% of players this month across the EFL are fully vaccinated, have had a single jab or intend to be vaccinated, which is up from 70% in the last set of figures,” a source said.

It is understood that some players are reluctant to get vaccinated against the disease because their youth and level of fitness mean they are unlikely to suffer should they contract it.

They are also concerned by stories of people suffering heart inflammation after taking the vaccine, even though official medical agencies have reported such cases as “very rare”.

One theory circulating among players is that Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 might have been linked to the jab, despite no medical evidence to support the suggestion.

The latest figures emerge even though the EFL have stepped up efforts to “bust the myths” around the vaccine’s safety and to educate players on its benefits for individuals and society. Posters and leaflets containing such information have been distributed to clubs in the hope that they will be displayed in stadiums and training grounds.

The EFL are also working with the NHS to increase the number of mobile vaccination centres visiting clubs.

“Vaccinations will preserve the integrity of our competitions and we’re continuing to educate players and staff,” the source said.

The EFL and Premier League recorded a video with professor Jonathan Van-Tam last month in which the Government’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer debunked some of the conspiracy theories.

It was circulated among players’ WhatsApp groups, with the Government hoping their willingness to get vaccinated would encourage other young people to follow suit as take-up stalled in the general population.

Worth reading in full.

Five Members of England Football Squad Refuse Jab

Five English football players who have been selected for the England squad recently are refusing to have a coronavirus vaccine, threatening their places in the World Cup squad in Qatar. MailOnline has more.

Three senior team members are reportedly among the rebels who believe they are too healthy to suffer Covid or have been pressured by their wives.

One is said to have brazenly declared he was too “young and fit” to be negatively affected by the virus, while another reportedly believes the anti-vaxxer ‘conspiracy theories’ about the jab.

The rest of the players are understood to have been ‘pressured’ not to get the jab by their wives or girlfriends who are against the vaccine.

It will come as a huge blow for England boss Gareth Southgate as World Cup organisers plan to ban all unvaccinated players from Qatar next year.

The Premier League is also struggling to clamp down on stars not taking the vaccine, with almost two-thirds of top-flight players yet to be fully jabbed and many refusing altogether.

Club officials are complaining dressing rooms have been ‘polluted’ by senior players spreading conspiracy theories involving Bill Gates, infertility and the power of vitamins.

But on Thursday night the league received reassurances from the Government that unvaccinated players will remain available for selection if Covid passports are made compulsory at mass events.

Former footballers weighed in on the issue and openly argued on social media over whether vaccines should be forced on stars.

Ex-England player Chris Waddle branded it “embarrassing” and called for a “simple no jab no play” policy. But former Tottenham midfielder Jamie O’Hara hit back, saying “it’s a choice and everyone has a choice in life”.

Worth reading in full.

Premier League to Reward Clubs with Highest Numbers of Vaccinated Players

Amid concerns of a low vaccine uptake among professional footballers, the Premier League has sent a briefing note to all 20 clubs outlining that the body might reward teams for making sure their players are double jabbed. What these potential incentives may be remains unclear. In addition, the Premier League has cited concerns over international travel and the likelihood of vaccine passports being introduced in the near future. The Mail has the story.

The Premier League has written to clubs informing them of plans to “reward” teams who have the highest numbers of vaccinated players

Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante was confirmed on Tuesday as the latest player to contract Covid, forcing him to miss his side’s Champions League clash against Juventus on Wednesday night. 

And Sportsmail can reveal that in a briefing note sent to clubs last week, the Premier League are stepping up their efforts to ensure more players are fully vaccinated due to fears over a slow uptake.

The document read: “According to the data we have, only seven clubs’ squads are more than 50% fully vaccinated, so we have a way to go.”

Sportsmail revealed last week that at least two Premier League sides have no more than six players vaccinated.

But Wolves, Brentford and Leeds have reported between 89 and 100% vaccination levels and there is growing optimism that the figures at other clubs will increase in the coming weeks.

The note continued: “We are considering if and how best we can ‘reward’ those squads/players who are most Covid-compliant and who have opted to be vaccinated.

“It is increasingly clear that full vaccination will be the key criteria for Government and health authorities, in terms of international travel and potential Covid certification at large scale events.”

Worth reading in full.