The Premier League are holding a series of meetings today and tomorrow with the teams in the league, apparently reminding players about the various COVID-19 protocols in place and also now re-emphasizing the guidelines against hugging, shaking hands, and swapping shirts.
This is apparently a response to increased pressure from the UK government, who are probably just looking to deflect attention from their own poor handling of the crisis. Look over here at all these footballers all smiling and celebrating!
Obviously, with COVID-19 on the rise within the Premier League just as in the general population, observing strict social distancing protocols can only help. How much it would actually help among a very specific subset of people, who are being tested at least twice a week and are (or at least should be) in practically a bubble is unknown. Coming down hard on players for celebrating during a match or sharing a hug and a laugh with a teammate is about as silly as booking players for taking their shirts off, but we already have that rule in place and we just might be getting one regarding the former as well.
The Athletic report that referees have been told to reinforce COVID-19 protocols with team captains ahead of games, which is just one step away from giving out bookings for breaches of the same.
But can you take emotion completely out of the game? Should you? Football is business and a job at the end of the day, but it’s surely soulless enough already without any fans in the stadiums. Frank Lampard certainly doesn’t believe this extra oversight is necessary.
“We have been told that recently and there are meetings about this today and tomorrow to reinforce that to the players. Football has and always will be a game of instinct. If we want to take the instinct out of the game then it is not that simple.
“The players are good lads and they don’t want to do the wrong thing. They are being asked to do their job through this tough time and they are doing it. When they are on the pitch and if they score a goal, we will try to adapt slightly as best we can.
“In the perfect world, we would all walk back to the halfway line and just start again but with football, it may not quite be the case. I don’t think you can hold footballers hugely to account as clearly flouting those rules. It is not an easy line to draw in the game, in football.”
“If they get booked it means they could possibly be sent off if it’s a second yellow card. I think that’s going to be really difficult to police with keeping the energy and excitement that football brings. I think that’s pretty clear. Let’s see how it works. The players asked to maybe not show natural instincts in a game. Let’s see how it works.”
“If you understand football and understand the passion and the instinct that every fan has, every person in the street has if they love football, they understand that it can bring out emotions in you.
“So to control the emotions is a fair ask, but to dictate emotion will probably be very difficult on the pitch. Let’s just see how this goes because as it goes along we will see if players can control it. I hope they can.”
It’s easy to misconstrue Lampard’s comments as arrogant or uncaring, but since we’ve essentially classified football and football players as essential workers, holding them to the same standard and restrictions as the general population is unfeasible in many respects.
Some might say of course that footballers should thus be held to a higher standard, to lead the way by example, as they’re often asked to do even in non-pandemic times.
And sure, maybe cut down on the trips to Dubai. But perhaps we can allow them a cuddle after a goal.
“We need to do our best, as we should have done all along. These protocols have been in place and hardened recently and I understand why [...] There are areas in our workplace where social distancing and compliance is top of our list. All the basics are top of the list.
“But, when you are actively playing football then there’s a lot of instinct involved, then it is not always as easy to draw that clear line in the match or training. That’s where we are and we will try to do our best to minimise the threat and danger that we know this virus holds.”
“I think, just to be clear, footballers aren’t doing what everyone else is being asked. Some people are being asked to work from home, footballers aren’t. They are taking themselves into an environment where potentially...maybe not putting themselves in danger, but maybe the family they are going home to: a pregnant wife, a grandparent, a parent, a brother, a sister.
“We have to understand that footballers are human as well and they are being asked to go and do their job at this moment [...] players are being asked to come to work and they are doing everything they can to toe the line as is hopefully every person in the public to get us through this.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Football.London
In the grand scheme of things, focusing on player celebrations sure seems like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.