Premier League players breaching coronavirus rules have been branded “disgusting” by a senior figure within one of its television rights holders, who says they should be sacked.
A number of top-flight stars were caught attending or hosting events over the Christmas and New Year period which broke national guidelines on households mixing.
The Professional Footballers’ Association sent a note to its members on Wednesday reiterating the importance of following coronavirus protocols, and an unnamed individual within a large rights holder told the PA news agency: “Our view is that some of the behaviour has been disgusting and unacceptable.
“If any of your colleagues broke the rules and endangered lives – forget the commercial damage – they would be fired.
“Never mind that ordinary people pay players’ bills. Why should players be treated any differently? If anything there should be greater repercussions on them due to their privileged position and onus of responsibility.
“It can mean planned broadcasts having to be shut down at the last minute and having to be rescheduled for later on. The more that conduct continues, the longer period of time ultimately there could be without football and without fans, and the longer the product looks different.
“All this disruption is caused by people who ultimately we as broadcasters are paying a huge amount of money to. I have never understood why some players think they’re immune from the rules the rest of society is expected to follow.”
None of the incidents are believed to have resulted in any player or staff member subsequently testing positive for Covid-19 but the potential for it to cause disruption to the match schedule and ultimately the completion of the season is obvious, never mind the public health impact.
Top-flight clubs already face substantial rebates for the delays to the 2019-20 season and the subsequent need to cram matches into a smaller schedule. So far four Premier League matches have been postponed this season due to coronavirus, but the league remains confident in its protocols given the “low numbers of positive tests across the overwhelming majority of clubs”.
Widespread postponements or a further pause to competition could lead to further discussions between broadcasters and the league around rebates, which in turn could cost clubs millions of pounds in expected revenue.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola defended the decision to include full-back Benjamin Mendy in his squad for the match against Chelsea on January 3 after the Frenchman admitted hosting friends at his house on New Year’s Eve.
The club expressed “disappointment” over Mendy’s actions, but Guardiola said: “Of course it was not correct what he has done, but don’t judge him too much. Maybe many people have done the same. It’s easy to judge others.”
Three Tottenham players – Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso and Sergio Reguilon – attended a Christmas party where West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini was also present.
Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic and Crystal Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic were also filmed at a New Year’s Eve gathering in breach of the rules.
On Wednesday the PFA said in a note to its members: “Players must continue to take the lead and act responsibly and professionally.
“Between now and the end of the season, we ask that you continue to take personal responsibility and follow the lockdown rules, without exception.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that players have a unique position to inspire and influence society positively.
“Your compliance with the national restrictions sets the right example to millions of fans and young people. Following the rules is also the best way to protect your loved ones, your colleagues and their families from harm.”
As coronavirus rates rise rapidly across the country, the PFA reinforces the message to players about the importance of following the current COVID-19 rules and club protocols. https://t.co/vuXL5ORR5O
— Professional Footballers' Association (@PFA) January 6, 2021
Milivojevic later released a statement apologising for his actions and said he would make a donation to his local NHS service.
The Palace midfielder said: “I want to publicly apologise for my actions on New Year’s Eve. As captain of Crystal Palace Football Club I am fully aware that my responsibilities go beyond football, and that in this instance, I have let the fans, the club, my manager and teammates down.
“In what is a really difficult and challenging moment for everyone, I am truly grateful that I am able to continue to do the job I love and I do not take this for granted. I am very sorry to anyone who has been made to feel angry, hurt or upset by my actions.
“I am making a donation to the local NHS service to help them continue their incredible work in our community fighting this virus.”
Statement from Luka Milivojevic
— Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) January 6, 2021
The Premier League is understood to have discussed ensuring Covid-19 protocols are closely followed, on a range of issues from hugging and handshakes after a goal is scored to safety at training grounds and pre-match accommodation. Forty players and staff tested positive in the last two rounds of testing in late December and early January.
The Football Association cannot charge the players with bringing the game into disrepute over the breach of Covid rules because they did not take place in a football-related setting.
Its jurisdiction over private matters only extends, and even then only since the start of this season, into matters related to discriminatory behaviour.
The breaches of coronavirus rules are more akin to a drink-driving offence, which the FA also has no jurisdiction over.