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A visibly distressed Antonio Conte painted a bleak picture of the Covid crisis engulfing Tottenham on Wednesday, describing an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty as cases at the club continued to rise.
Eight of Conte’s first team squad and five members of staff have returned positive tests, and the head coach was fearful of further infections ahead of Thursday’s visit of Rennes in the Europa Conference League.
"Every day we are having contact with people that are false-negative and then become positive," said Conte, who described himself as "very, very upset" at the escalating situation.
"Everyone is a bit scared, because we all have family. Why do I have to take this risk? Tomorrow, who? Me?"
In the circumstances described by Conte, there is no justification for Thursday’s match going ahead, even if Spurs do not meet UEFA’s criteria to request a postponement.
The governing body’s rules state clubs must fulfil a fixture if they have 13 available players from their ‘A-List’, including a goalkeeper. Conte was thought to have approximately 15 eligible players on Wednesday, including just ten senior outfield players and three goalkeepers.
UEFA are closely monitoring the situation but were still insisting on Wednesday afternoon that the match would take place as scheduled.
Whether the game can go ahead is entirely different to whether it should, however.
In this case, financial considerations and the issue of sporting integrity feel insignificant compared to the moral obligation to limit the spread of a deadly virus.
If the virus had already been contained and the impacted individuals were safely in isolation, UEFA would be within their rights to enforce their rules – which are clear and the same for every club, after all.
But in the fluid and uncertain scenario described by Conte, there is a real risk that players carrying the virus could train and play on Thursday, having previously tested negative.
In almost any other workplace, Spurs staff would already have been sent home and the training ground closed to contain the virus – a step which the club could take if the situation continues to worsen.
Instead, Conte was expecting to be back at Hotspur Way for another training session on Thursday to go over set-piece drills for the match, highlighting the absurdity of the situation.
The Italian and his remaining players and staff will again by gripped by the anxiety of having had contact with colleagues who subsequently tested positive, as well as the fear of potentially taking the virus home to their families. No-one should be put in a situation where they are fearful of going to work. Surely this is the bottom line.
Rennes, meanwhile, are being put in the uncomfortable position of travelling to a Covid-hit overseas opponent, and thereby running the risk of allowing the virus into their own camp and bringing it back to their shores. The Ligue 1 club have already topped the group and have nothing on the line.
UEFA’s rules were also drawn up before the discovery of the Omicron variant, and although it is unclear if the new, highly-contagious strain is impacting Spurs, it may increase the severity of future outbreaks across the game and beyond.
With everyone involved in the match – from players to fans to officials – potentially at risk, pushing ahead with the fixture is reckless and irresponsible, particularly considering the backdrop of a worsening Covid situation in UK.
Shortly after Conte spoke via Zoom, the Government announced the implementation of their ‘Plan B’ restrictions, meaning a return to working from home and vaccine passports for large events, including football matches, while there are already international travel restrictions in place.
The status of the competition should not really matter – all football is meaningless when health is at risk – but the fact is the Europa Conference League is of little prestige or significance.
While there are financial and sporting reasons for Spurs to want to join Rennes in the knockouts, there is also a compelling case that it would actually be better for them to be eliminated. Put simply, no game is worth putting people’s health at risk – but especially not this one.
For Spurs, the situation is further complicated because UEFA rules also state that all group matches must be completed by December 31. They could yet legitimately request a postponement but, given the hectic festive schedule, it would be logistically impossible to rearrange the fixture this year.
Forfeiting the match would not only see them automatically exit the competition but incur a financial penalty, and potential sour relations with UEFA.
The Premier League are likely to take a more pragmatic view of their visit to Brighton on Sunday, which could be postponed once the club lodges an official request with the Premier League board.
In the meantime, if common sense prevails, UEFA will call off Thursday’s fixture and consider possible solutions.