There's no reason why football can't continue edging towards recovery

MARTIN SAMUEL: After a very positive test result, there is now no reason why football can’t continue edging towards recovery – but the Premier League must maintain Bundesliga standards

  • If guidelines are kept to, there’s no reason why football can’t inch towards return 
  • The low numbers of positive coronavirus tests on Tuesday was a promising start
  • Just SIX anonymous Premier League players and staff test positive for virus
  • Football cannot return though if these standards of safety aren’t maintained
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Pardoning the pun, it was a very positive test result for the Premier League on Tuesday. Mainly because there were not a whole lot of positive tests. 

Just six of 748 taken, spread across three clubs. So, at most, four at any one club. That is still a significant number if the quartet are Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk, but Liverpool, or any rival, would have to be very unlucky to have a bank of their most important players removed by Covid-19 at the same time. 

So, notwithstanding any future revelations about who and where the virus has struck, and with Norwich still to report, this was as good as the Premier League could have hoped for. 

Six of 748 Premier League players and staff tested positive for coronavirus as training returned

A higher infection rate (0.8 per cent) than German football’s 10 positives across 1,724 tests (0.58 per cent) conducted across its top two tiers, but it was never going to be perfect. Indeed, it could have been considerably worse given where this country is compared to Germany. 

Brighton have been conducting their own tests in recent weeks and initially had four positives in 13. So as the illness is subsiding in some parts of the country, football reflects this gradual withdrawal. 

Certainly, there was little in Tuesday’s news to suggest the game has made a huge mistake tentatively entertaining a return. 

There are still issues and questions requiring answers. But from here, if football can monitor participants and ensure there is no spike as training resumes, it is far from unthinkable that season 2019-20 could be completed over this summer. Of course, it will still be down to individuals whether they return. 

Danny Rose has again spoken out, saying footballers are being treated like lab rats. Troy Deeney says he will not return to training with Watford until receiving guidance on whether extra care will be taken with BAME players, who are believed to be at greater risk. Y et many of these concerns could just as readily be addressed by experts outside the game. The catch-all BAME vulnerability, for instance. 

There was little in the results to suggest the Premier League has made a huge mistake

Black and Asian people are not all one group in terms of genetic susceptibility. Indeed, when hospital deaths up to May 5 were measured by ethnicity, those identifying as Asian fared better than whites and blacks. 

Studies into how and why people are affected by coronavirus are in their infancy and perceived weaknesses may yet be explained by social conditions around skin colour rather than genetic make-up. 

Ethnic minority groups experience higher levels and earlier onset of the chronic health conditions that cause coronavirus complications. This is because minority groups often suffer inequality in wealth, housing and employment, all potential contributory factors — but not ones likely to impact on Premier League footballers. 

Deeney’s concerns are understandable and must be addressed, but it may be that the sectors of the BAME population disproportionately attacked by Covid-19 do not include wealthy, young professional footballers. 

Troy Deeney has called for more clarity on how coronavirus impacts ethnic minority players

Equally, it is disconcerting to hear stories of tests being unavailable with the scheme so new. Such an early failure is troubling. If football is to win the trust of those expected to plot a way through this crisis, logistical organisation must be beyond reproach. 

The moment players feel unprotected, or that health and safety are not the priority, the deal is off. The Bundesliga looked a safe space at the weekend and the Premier League must meet that standard and more. 

Yet what is clear from here is that English football has a chance. It was Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, who condemned clusters of coronavirus infection in Germany last week. After Dynamo Dresden’s entire squad was placed in quarantine, Tebas said: ‘What happened in Germany cannot happen and, what’s more, it won’t happen in Spain. ‘It’s impossible for a club to have five positive cases at the same time. If it does happen it’s down to negligence or not adhering to the health protocols.’ 

La Liga chief Javier Tebas (R) was right when he said no club should have five cases at one time

Insufferably smug as ever, of course, but he has a point. Having less than one per cent of tests return positive, there really is no excuse for the virus to spiral unchecked in football. If clubs, managers, coaches and players adhere to the guidelines, if the return is measured and steady, if behaviour away from the training ground is responsible, there is no reason why football cannot continue edging towards recovery. 

Bundesliga matches were played behind closed doors at the weekend, without thousands of fans congregating outside. The public are well versed in protocols and procedures now. They queue for supermarkets, they keep respectful distances in the street. 

Those who want football to return would surely not wish to shut the season down by disregarding safety issues. Increasingly, it seems likely clubs will play at their own grounds and, with clear messaging, supporters will not present a challenge to security. 

So the testing remains the key, and Tuesday was a promising start. Now it must be maintained — the safe environment, the clear instruction, the necessary reassurance. Fail in any of these objectives and football will not return and, more importantly, will not deserve to.

Bundesliga matches were played behind closed doors without fans congregating outside

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