KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: English professional football has overriden government guidance, taken the coronavirus law into its own hands and suspended matches until at least April 3.
The decision was taken jointly today by the Football Association, Premier League and Football League after emergency meetings prompted by increasing cases of officials and players either testing positive for the virus and entering self-isolation.
Finally English football has thus followed the examples set by top-flight leagues in various other European countries including France (suspended indefinitely), Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.
On Thursday Prime Minister Boris Johnson held back from targeting sports events after chairing the latest meeting of the government’s COBRA crisis committee.
But he added: “Considering banning major public events including sports fixtures, the advice we’re receiving is that it will have little effect on the spread of the virus but there is also the issue of the burden such events place on public services.
“We’ll have more to say shortly about the timing of further action in that respect.”
Later he added: “There is little medical reasoning at the moment to ban such events and we want to keep that issue under review. We’re not saying No to that sort of measure but it’s important that we get the timing right.”
In fact, he was being overtaken by events.
As Johnson was making his statement so Premier League Leicester City said three players had entered self-isolation as did Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy after a member of his family was admitted to hospital displaying symptoms. Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi has also contracted the virus.
Arsenal responded to a positive test on manager Mikel Arteta by closing their training ground and ordering self-isolation for staff and players who had been in recent contact with him. This included the entire first-team squad.
The club’s Premier League match with Manchester City last Wednesday had been postponed as a “precautionary measure” and several Gunners players had already entered self-isolation after Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis revealed he had contracted coronavirus.
Arsenal said Marinakis, 52, met a number of their players when the Gunners hosted the Greek side in a Europa League match two weeks ago.
England’s international friendlies against Italy and Denmark later this month have been cancelled along with Wales’ matches against the United States and Austria.
England’s next scheduled game is now Austria in Vienna on Tuesday June 2 followed by Romania at Villa Park, Birmingham, on Sunday June 7.
In a statement the FA said: “This action, which will be kept under constant review, has been taken due to the increasing numbers of clubs taking steps to isolate their players and staff because of the Covid-19 virus.
“It will also apply to all England team fixtures at every level and all FA competitions including the Emirates FA Cup and the Women’s FA Cup, along with academy and youth-team matches.
“The decision is being made purely on the number of cases requiring self-isolation and the impact on facilities. Given the steps being taken across clubs, there is no alternative but for today’s action. However, all parties are committed at this time to trying to complete this season’s domestic fixture programme and are liaising to establish appropriate options to do so.
“We are liaising with the National League pyramids (men’s and women’s) and will continue to offer guidance and support. Any decision to continue playing or to postpone their respective competitions is a matter for each league as autonomous bodies within the game.”
“The postponements include all matches in the Championship, League One and League Two, as well as all Academy and youth team fixtures.
“In addition, Clubs are being advised to suspend indefinitely all non-essential activities which include, but are not limited to, player appearances, training ground visits and fan meetings.
“Whilst the EFL Board has continued to take the advice and guidance offered by the Government and its health advisors, emerging developments mean now is the time to implement football’s contingency plans in response to the crisis.
“A further update on these plans will be given post an EFL Board Meeting next week.
“This decision has not been taken lightly, but the EFL must prioritise the health and well-being of players, staff and supporters while also acknowledging the Government’s national efforts in tackling this outbreak.”