The Premier League still seems hell-bent on restarting the 2019-20 football season as soon as possible. The current — and somewhat nebulous — plan is titled “Project Restart” and intends to have clubs start small-session training in as soon as a week or two with matches resuming in neutral venues in early to mid June. The r€a$on$ b€hind thi$ ru$h to op€n up footba££ $o quick£y i$ anyon€’$ gu€$$, but there’s one group that has now publicly expressed discomfort over the current plan — the doctors working at Premier League clubs.
According to a new article that was released on The Athletic by David Ornstein today, doctors and medics at Premier League clubs have jointly issued a 100-point letter to the Premier League, asking questions about details relating to the plan to restart the season, perhaps most notably why the league is set on “approving guidelines that still carry risk of death.”
They call for the Premier League to implement “a centralised education and consent process” and indications of discomfort are apparent throughout, for instance: “Lots of pressure on individual medical teams to reassure players and staff on something we are very uncertain about… is it fair to expect players and staff to agree with an operational policy related to an unknown virus?
“Do all the staff have to sign that they are happy with the COVID-19 protocol? Is this a disclaimer if anything happens to a player? Who is liable, the doctor or the Premier League?
“As doctors, how can we ‘approve’ guidelines that still carry risk of death?”
— David Ornstein, The Athletic
Now look, I’m obviously not an epidemiologist and I’m certainly not an expert on public heath and safety, but when doctors band together and hand the league a letter with 100 bullet points with requests for clarity or questions over plans to re-start professional football during a global pandemic, it seems to me that maybe — just maybe — it might be a bad idea to do it. There are so many questions over any proposed plan to restart football, even behind closed doors, and the safety of the athletes is paramount. Football isn’t a sport you can play with social distancing, and the latest numbers about the spread of the coronavirus in the UK aren’t exactly causing a whole lot of positivity. By restarting the league under the current plan you are asking a large group of professional athletes to risk their own lives and possibly the lives of others for the benefit of entertainment.
Other points in the letter as revealed by The Athletic include but are in no way limited to:
- Questioning whether doctors conducting a pre-match examination of a player is considered “essential”
- Questioning whether the coronavirus is airborne, could become airborne, or can be transmitted through sweat
- Asking the league to consider who the players may be contacting when not playing professional football and the risks associated with viral transmission through that vector
- Asking clarity on the cleaning and sterilization of football pitches and facilities before and after matches
- Asking whether and how long the coronavirus can live on things like goalkeepers’ gloves, balls, and other equipment
- Noting that intense physical activity could act as an immunosuppressant and questioning whether that could be a factor in COVID-19 transmission
- Logistical concerns for if and when a Premier League player is diagnosed with COVID-19 after the restart
- Asking whether the mental health of players and staff has been considered in the Project Restart plan
- Asking “if rule breakers will be punished and what power they have in this area”
If players like Sergio Aguero speaking out about their fears about playing football during a pandemic was a shot across the bow, this is a full-on fusillade fired right at the broadside of the Premier League’s hull. These aren’t merely “pampered players with opinions,” these are doctors with legitimate concerns about what is known, and what isn’t known. They want to know what the risks of restarting sports so soon are, and it sure sounds like they don’t have the answers yet.
100 points is a lot of points! All of those things are (likely) questions that need to be answered, or at least addressed, before anyone is going to feel comfortable with players kicking a ball around a field. If nothing else, the letter seems to show the level of complexity it will take to manage something like Project Restart, and the potential things that could go wrong when you gather athletes together for a sport during a global pandemic.
Maybe — gosh — it might be safer to just cancel the season.