West Ham manager David Moyes has defended the efforts of clubs and players to avoid coronavirus outbreaks amid increasing pressure from football’s authorities for them to take the situation more seriously.
Speaking before his side’s 1-0 win at Stockport last night, Moyes sympathised with under-fire players, saying there was “a lot of nervousness” about being exposed to the virus, but admitted clubs were struggling to cope with the regular testing requirements during a packed fixture schedule.
The Premier League and FA are preparing to issue fresh reminders to clubs, players and officials over the need to follow strict Covid protocols.
The top-flight last week issued new protocols, including instructions for players to avoid mass celebrations, hugging, shaking hands or swapping shirts, and they are now set to write to referees to instruct them to remind captains before games to stick to the guidelines. The EFL’s new chief executive, Trevor Birch, has written to his clubs to warn of “extreme governmental pressure if we continue to flout rules and guidance”.
Scenes of mass celebrations on the pitch, in packed dressing rooms and outside grounds around this weekend’s FA Cup third-round ties prompted disquiet at Westminster, with ministers questioning whether elite sport should continue as infections across the country continue to soar.
There were 36 positives recorded in the latest rounds of Premier League testing, down slightly from 40 in the previous two rounds, as the new strain of the virus which has recently decimated the Manchester City, Fulham and Aston Villa squads continues to cause disruption.
While there are currently no plans to cancel elite sport, Labour’s Shadow Sports Minister, Alison McGovern, has said it is becoming “increasingly difficult” for it to continue.
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo yesterday warned that a second shutdown could spell the end for the Premier League as we know it, because big clubs would seize the opportunity to form a breakaway European Super League.
Moyes agrees the Premier League should continue and highlighted “the work going on behind the scenes” to ensure it carries on.
“We sat for two hours last night working out how we’re going to get tested with the amount of games we’re playing in the coming weeks,” Moyes told the BBC. “We’re all aware that the Covid at the moment is really bad. We’re trying to take a lot of care of the players, because the players have put themselves at a lot of risk as well. Behind the scenes there is a lot of nervousness. The players are going back to young families, their wives, and they have been out exposing themselves [to the virus].
“We’re being tested and that gives us a better chance, but it doesn’t stop you getting the virus. It is only telling you that you are clear.”
The Premier League have no plans to cancel the season or introduce a short circuit-breaker, but will continue to be creative with fixture rescheduling where necessary.
Yesterday, the Premier League postponed Tottenham’s visit to Aston Villa tomorrow and rescheduled Spurs’ home game against Fulham in its place at short notice.