Football will come under extreme Government pressure to stop if clubs “continue to flout the rules” on limiting the spread of coronavirus, EFL chief executive Trevor Birch has warned.
Elite sport has been allowed to continue despite the country being placed in a new national lockdown designed to slow down the rate of Covid-19 infections in the UK.
However, a number of on and off-field incidents, along with an increase in positive test rates among players, means the professional game is under greater scrutiny from the Government and the public than ever before.
Birch says all EFL clubs and their staff must bear this in mind.
“Throughout the pandemic, football has provided a glimmer of hope for many millions of people affected by restrictions but we all understand the scrutiny the game remains under and we will come under extreme governmental pressure if we continue to flout the rules,” he said in a letter to clubs.
There were high-profile instances of Covid protocols being breached by EFL clubs over the FA Cup third round weekend. QPR admitted they should not have allowed former player, Eberechi Eze, to attend their tie against Fulham, while Crawley’s exuberant celebrations of their upset win over Leeds also went against rules around social distancing.
“While football is permitted to continue the actions of all participants will be clearly under the microscope, whether this be in technical areas, dugouts, or in relation to general behaviour and interaction between players on the pitch and staff off it,” Birch added.
Birch says individual transgressions must be “properly investigated” by the clubs concerned and warned: “Any failure to do so may result in action taken by the league individually against the relevant person where it is appropriate and/or against the club itself.”
He said now was “not the time for complacency” over the Covid-19 protocols.
From this week, players and staff at EFL clubs will be tested twice a week. The testing is being funded by the Professional Footballers’ Association.
The results from this week’s tests are expected to be announced by the EFL on January 19.
The EFL announced on Tuesday that Brentford’s next two matches in the Sky Bet Championship – against Bristol City on Wednesday and Reading on Saturday – had been postponed due to recent positive Covid-19 tests at the west London club.
The Premier League has encountered its own problems with fixtures being postponed due to Covid, while some top-flight players were heavily criticised for attending or hosting gatherings over the Christmas and New Year period.
The PA news agency understands that Derby’s players have all proved negative after the club’s latest Covid-19 tests on Monday and will return to training in the next few days.
The Rams’ entire first-team squad were forced to isolate after the club shut their Moor Farm training ground eight days ago due to a coronavirus outbreak.