Premier League puts end to possibility of clubs ‘gaming the system’ with new postponement rules

·2-min read
Premier League puts end to possibility of clubs ‘gaming the system’ with new postponement rules - PA
Premier League puts end to possibility of clubs ‘gaming the system’ with new postponement rules - PA

Premier League clubs will have to prove there are at least four positive Covid tests in their squad if they want a fixture to be postponed in future.

The tightening of the guidance follows an outcry after a spate of controversial call-offs with the clubs unanimously agreeing to it at a meeting on Wednesday. The tipping point appears to have been Arsenal’s successful application to postpone the north London derby even though there was just one Covid case in their squad.

There were no objections raised by any of the 20 clubs to the new criteria which will come into force when the Premier League resumes, after its winter break, on February 5 with Burnley hosting Watford. There is then a full round of fixtures in the following midweek.

Previously when a side wanted a match postponed they had to show they did not have 13 available players plus a goalkeeper which meant that injuries and absence due to international duty – such as the African Cup of Nations – were taken into account. It led to 22 games being called off and a great deal of suspicion as to the motives of some clubs who were accused of ‘gaming the system’.

The change means that the threshold for postponements will now only take into account positive Covid cases and shifts the emphasis away from ‘available players’. It does not mean that if a club suffers four cases that a request for postponement will be automatically granted. Each request will still be considered on an individual basis.

While the Premier League has allowed postponements there have been none in Spain’s La Liga or the German Bundesliga and just a handful in Italy and France.

There have been claims that a change in the Premier League rules midway through a campaign could lead to legal action from aggrieved clubs but that threat is understood to have subsided. The change brought about by the Premier League amounts to guidance after consultation with Public Health England.

With the number of Covid cases falling there is hope that the need to ask for postponements will also subside with just 16 new cases reported earlier this week. It is the fourth week in a row the number has fallen.

The Afcon, which has deprived clubs of some of their key players and is due to finish on February 6, has also added the pressure.

The clubs have also agreed that mandatory Covid pass checks on fans at stadiums will end.

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