England’s football authorities have been urged to start punishing players who flout coronavirus restrictions, with a number of individuals from various clubs hosting or attending illegal gatherings over the Christmas and New Year period.
Positive cases are skyrocketing, seemingly as a result of a new more transmissible strain of the virus. More than 360,000 people have tested positive in the last week, with 54,990 on 3 January alone.
There are real fears that this second wave could far exceed the peak of the original wave back in spring and there are fresh calls for a second full national lockdown like in March.
Professional football has not been immune to the second wave and there have been postponements in the Premier League and all three tiers of the EFL ladder because of COVID-19 outbreaks.
But some players appear to be taking little notice of the rules that prevent the whole of mainland UK from meeting with other households indoors, except for certain key exemptions.
Tottenham trio Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso and Sergio Reguilon and West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini attended a gathering over the Christmas period attended by at least 15 adults and a number of children, with a photo of the event making its way onto social media.
Manchester City full-back Benjamin Mendy hosted a dinner party on New Year’s Eve, while Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic and Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic also appeared to attend a gathering with at least seven other adults that night.
Fulham confirmed they were looking into Mitrovic’s behaviour, but Milivojevic played 90 minutes Palace against Sheffield United on 2 January and he retained the captaincy.
Meanwhile, City boss Pep Guardiola actively defended Mendy, opting for the ‘lots of other people probably did it as well’ argument. That is despite an outbreak at City already forcing a recent game against Everton to be postponed and contributing to fixture congestion later in the season.
“Of course, it was not correct what he has done, but don't judge him too much. Maybe many people have done the same. It's easy to judge others,” Guardiola tried to reason.
Suspensions have been dished out in rugby and netball, but professor John Ashton, the former North West Regional Director Of Public Health, has accused those at the top of football of prioritising money over health and social responsibility.
“Football has such responsibility to show leadership and to set an example that it’s a disgrace,” Ashton told the Daily Telegraph. “These people are not leaders that are running the national game. They’re cowards, actually, and they’re more interested in the money than anything else.”
Former FA chairman David Bernstein also told the same newspaper, “The very fact that matches are played, players are inevitably in close contact and, of course, are hugging after scoring a goal, all lead to a feeling of normality in what is a totally abnormal national crisis.
“This is compounded by media headlines focusing on players partying and breaking regulations. It produces a ‘Dominic Cummings’ effect. ‘If they can relax, cuddle and party, so can I’. The punishment for non-compliance should be much greater.”