Why stricter punishments should be required for rule-flouting footballers during the pandemic

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Football was at the forefront of sport restarting in the UK during the first wave of Covid-19. At the time, the restart was hotly debated, from its safety to whether it was a priority given the national situation. Yet the debate has moved on. Instead, the discussion now centres around whether the players should be held to a higher degree of responsibility for breaking Covid-19 rules and what the league or clubs should be doing when it happens.

Since the restart, we have seen several outbreaks of Covid-19 within football. At first, many of these could well be chalked off as just natural and accidental outbreaks when the pandemic was at its peak and we didn’t have the infrastructure or regulations in wider society to deal with it.

However, the concern comes more recently with players clearly breaking rules. Whilst we still see players get the virus by accident and not through reckless behaviour – Sergio Agüero most recently does not seem to have broken the rules – the vast majority of the recent cases have come from rule breaking. Even if Covid-19 isn’t transmitted, footballers need to be punished for breaking the rules.

Footballers, first and foremost, are just like any other person. There is a bare minimum that they will be fined, as it is the law, however there are two reasons why players must be internally fined and punished by clubs and leagues on top of legal ramifications.

Firstly, and probably most obviously, footballers are massive role models. For many children and young people, footballers are their idols, the people they want to grow up to be. Personally I can attest to that, as for some reason I absolutely idolised Glen Johnson growing up.

Because of their position, footballers need to be responsible. I am not asking footballers to go all Marcus Rashford and politically campaign, even though I would highly encourage them to do so. All I would ask is for them to not to break the law and be responsible. We cannot have players attending parties or sneaking women into hotel rooms. What kind of a message does it send out?

The second reason is for the safety of all players. Not just ones they train with day in, day out, but also the opposition they play against. Look at a corner and tell me it is not the footballing equivalent to a petri dish. Players may have family that are at risk, elderly parents or even children.

Watford striker Troy Deeney expressed concern at the restart due to having an at-risk child. Whilst the likelihood of spreading the virus to the opposition in a game is low, it is still there and players and their families’ safety must be paramount.

Therefore, the clubs and leagues must be stricter. If a player or a team is ever caught breaking the rules, they should face heavy penalties. Starting with fines. First-time offenders should be made to pay a fine, perhaps payable to a Covid-19 relief fund for grassroots junior football. There is no need for the Premier League or FA to get this money directly.

After fines repeat offenders should be suspended, with the suspension growing each time. And as for team fines, if a team is forced to miss a game through a club-wide breaking of the rules then they should have to forfeit the matches rather than have them postponed, as is current policy. It is not fair on the other team and a message needs to be sent out. Celtic were lucky. Overall, the footballing authorities need to be as strict as they can to set a good example and to maintain player safety.

Image: five til noon via Creative Commons

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