With Omicron Causing Havoc, Is Now The Time For Football To Take A Break?

The Premier League are staying with their plan but more games are falling victim
15:44, 16 Dec 2021

Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on football once again and there is a sense that the situation is back where it all began in 2020 as the world shut down. Thursday night’s match between Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur has become the latest fixture to be postponed due to an outbreak of the wretched virus amid the concern around the Omicron variant, and it seems as though the Premier League are doing all they can to hold off an inevitable pause to the season.

Football and society are once again at a crossroads as the pandemic continues to resist the world’s responses, and with matches across the Football League being postponed in recent weeks, it may be wise for the relevant authorities to consider halting the calendar and issuing a Christmas break.

Between December 6 and 12, Premier League clubs recorded 42 positive Covid cases, the largest number returned since testing began, and there have been multiple more positives so far this week as more and more squads become affected. Scientists are still researching the intricate details of this new variant, and, given that Omicron is seemingly more transmissible than previous variants, there is a growing concern for sport.

Sources close to the Premier League have said that they are evaluating each scenario case by case and continuing to follow the current rules which state a club must fulfil a fixture if they have a minimum of 14 senior players fit. The league is also in regular contact with its member clubs regarding the outbreaks of Covid-19, and each club has a Covid officer in a bid to assist in matters.

For now, they are following the advice set out by the UK Government, which is perhaps why there is a current reluctance to pull the plug on all upcoming fixtures. In the last two days, matches between Watford and Burnley, and Leicester and Spurs, have been postponed just hours before kick-off, with authorities keen to exhaust all possibilities before calling games off.

The Government recently outlined their Plan B scheme to tackle the new variant, which requires crowds presenting proof of double vaccination or a negative lateral flow test at large events. But the FA, Premier League and EFL might need to take decisive action of their own and accept that a mid-season break wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given the number of players and staff being affected.

Three top-flight fixtures have been pushed back in the last three days alone, and for the clubs at the heart of the outbreaks: Manchester United, Brentford, Watford, Leicester City and Tottenham, their respective fixtures at the weekend could easily be postponed to, and the loss of five or more games in the 10-match schedule could open a can of worms for the Premier League to deal with.

Brentford boss Thomas Frank has called for at least a week-long break to the Premier League fixtures in a bid to “break the chain” of the virus and allow facilities to be thoroughly cleaned and for players to recover. He told reporters: “We think that we should postpone the full round of Premier League games this weekend coming up. The Covid cases are going through the roof with all the Premier League clubs and everyone is dealing with it. Everyone has a problem at this moment in time."

FRANK HAS CALLED FOR A BREAK IN THE SCHEDULE
FRANK HAS CALLED FOR A BREAK IN THE SCHEDULE

The Danish manager has already had one fixture pushed back because of an outbreak and the total of positive cases at Brentford increased to 13 during the press conference at which he called for the weekend matches to be suspended. Tottenham boss Antonio Conte is also concerned about the growing problem among Premier League clubs and, as much as he wants football to continue, he is worried for the families and fans of all fans, players and staff who would be put in the firing line by the sport continuing.

If a winter break was deemed necessary by the FA and Premier League, the lack of an international tournament next summer would provide them with time to fulfil the suspended fixtures, similarly to the end of the 2019-20 season. So with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Government still preaching caution but leaving wider decisions down to companies and individuals, it would be wise for the footballing authorities to take matters into their own hands and help quash this variant in its early stages.

By introducing a break, the booster jab programme could get into full swing and hopefully lead to the beautiful game returning swiftly. In the meantime, every game that takes place potentially extends the problem still further.

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