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18 Dec, 2021 18:01

Premier League Covid carnage: What exactly is going on?

Premier League Covid carnage: What exactly is going on?

The Premier League is mired in chaos amid a rash of Covid postponements on the eve of its busiest period. But what exactly is going on in England's top football tier?

What has been canceled and why?

With just a week to spare until the packed Christmas and New Year calendar which helps make the English top flight the most popular football league in the world, the spread of Covid and the Omicron variant in the UK is causing matches to be scrapped with rampant outbreaks at clubs including Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City.

 Spurs were said to have 15 positive cases which recently caused the suspension of a UEFA Conference clash with Rennes, while a match with Leicester on Thursday had to be shelved as their manager Brendan Rodgers included positive cases in a group of 11 players out with Covid, illness or injury.

The Premier League has revealed that there were 42 recorded positive Covid tests between December 6 and 12 – a record since case numbers began to be released last year. 

Just this weekend alone, there have been six fixtures put on ice, causing Match of the Day host Gary Lineker to poke fun at his popular primetime highlights program having just one game – Leeds United versus Arsenal – to show on Saturday evening. 

At least there will be no disputes over its running order. But up until now, four other games have been postponed bringing the tally to 10 in total.

What now?

Boxing Day is fast approaching, and Premier League clubs will meet on Monday to discuss the crisis as some called for no games to be played at all until the December 26 date.

Amid fears that action could be stopped beyond that, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has said he doesn't see the "benefit" in any pause.

"So far football kept it pretty much outside with the testing regimes, the massive disciplinary things for the boys did really well, but this time it is really difficult," Klopp added.

What are vaccination rates in the Premier League?

Some appear to be making unvaccinated players the scapegoats for the latest developments.

The league last published data on this in October, revealing that 81% of its stars had received at least one jab, while 68% have been given two.

This pales in comparison to the UK average with 89% of those aged over 12 having their first dose and 82% their second. 

And elsewhere across Europe, rival competitions such as La Liga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga claim to have 90-98% of all players fully vaccinated.

Why aren't Premier League players getting vaccinated?

The Daily Mail reported this week that a vegan Premier League star is refusing to be vaccinated on ethical grounds with animal testing a legal requirement on British soil for the development of vaccines.

Additionally, there are also meant to be concerns as per the effects on fertility among some Premier League players. 

In September, The Times pointed to the spread of misinformation in players' WhatsApp groups as a key motive for reluctance, which urged Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Maheta Molango to tell them not to "believe all the myths and lies" circulating online.

The league has failed to get big name players to front campaigns that urge their colleagues to get jabbed too.

But a club doctor has also suggested that complacency might be an issue. 

"These players are obviously young and fit so from one aspect I can understand why they may feel that it's not necessary to be vaccinated," said Rochdale's Wesley Tensel to BBC Sport.

A lack of confidence in the vaccine, concerns about side effects, and a fear of needles have been cited as other reasons to decline, as Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish pointed out that players are "no different to people in society in that age group".

"Some people have their own views and concerns," he added.

Ex-Premier League doctor Matthew Ogunsanya believes it is "simply a case of perceived risks versus the benefits".

"Ultimately you have to ask the question why do some players see the risk of the vaccine and why don't they see the benefits of it? The reasons for that will vary," he claimed.

What has the Premier League said?

On Friday, The Atheltic reported that chief executive Richard Masters had written to all 20 top flight outfits stressing how important vaccinations for footballers and finishing the season are.

"We have collectively highlighted the importance of vaccination and it has never been more important," wrote Masters.

"Please strongly encourage those who are not fully vaccinated to become so, and the many who are, to get their booster, which appears to be the only significant layer of protection against the Omicron variant."

What are Premier League managers saying?

Once comparing those who aren't vaccinated to drink drivers, Klopp's latest diatribe on the subject has seen him say that vaccinations should be mandatory "from a moral point of view".

"It's a question of persuading," the German, who claims his squad are 99% vaccinated, said before the weekend.

"If I do something that helps the people around me then for me that's mandatory – but obviously some people see that differently.

"I'm 54 years old and I am really a big believer that you can convince people about the right things to do but I'm not sure in this specific case," Klopp accepted.

Manchester City rival Pep Guardiola quipped that his team's doctors and medical department can give the vaccine, "so the players have to know that [it] is [to] protect them, family and the rest of society".

"But no-one can obligate them to do it," he conceded.

Spurs manager Antonio Conte would agree with this, saying: "Honestly, this is a personal matter, the vaccination."

"I've been vaccinated and my family, my daughter and wife, did the same. I'd like that other people do the same but every single person needs to take the best decision for himself."

What about the fans?

Supporters who wish to attend matches are already coming to grips with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's recently introduced Plan B, which demands they show a vaccine passport or negative test results to gain entry to stadiums.

As per the cancelations, however, Daily Telegraph reporter Matt Law said it was "disgraceful that games are being postponed this late" just hours before kick- off.

"No regard for supporters and no regard for [the] impact of thousands of people travelling on public transport in a pandemic.

"Surely we are at a stage where if there is any doubt at all, games have to be called off the night before," it was suggested.

Though the fixtures will likely be replayed at some point, it is also unfair to those at home who pay expensive subscription fees to the likes of Sky to watch Premier League ties.