Just days after the Premier League was forced to issue tougher Covid rules to clubs outlawing hugging in goal celebrations, players breached them and embraced enthusiastically after each score in the top tier last night.
Football’s governing bodies have come under pressure from government to eradicate the casual breaches of social distancing rules on and off the pitch after a series of high-profile incidents.
But the Premier League still wants to leave it to the clubs to sanction players who break the rules.
Ministers are concerned the flagrant abuse of social distancing by privileged footballers will cause a souring of the public mood and force them into a position where they feel compelled to shutdown elite sport.
Paul Pogba was mobbed by Manchester United team mates when he scored a goal at Burnley
Sheffield United players embraced after scoring in their first win of the season
Everton’s players enjoyed an exuberant celebration after scoring in their win away to Wolves
And health experts have added their voices of concern over the unnecessary, increased risk of spreading coronavirus in celebratory scrums.
However, none of that held sway on the pitch last night as Everton, Wolves, Sheffield United and Manchester United all got up close and personal after netting crucial goals.
And two managers defended their players’ exuberant celebrations.
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder claimed it is ‘unnatural’ to stop players hugging after his team mobbed Billy Sharp, following the skipper’s penalty that set the Blades on their way to the first victory of the season.
‘It’s an emotional game,’ said Wilder. ‘We’ve talked before about the country looking at us and the other two games, I understood that. But it is an emotional game on the pitch and on the touchline… it is unnatural and unreal (not to celebrate).’
His comments are at odds with Premier League guidance, which was issued on Friday.
The protocols include avoiding ‘unnecessary contact at all times’ including ‘handshakes and hugging’, as well as instructions to wear face masks on the bench, spot checks of dressing rooms and team buses to ensure social distancing measures are being followed.
The Premier League says that the clubs should investigate and sanction ‘individual transgressions by relevant persons’.
And it adds: ‘Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action by the league individually against the relevant person, where appropriate, and/or against the club,’ according to the Telegraph.
At Turf Moor, Paul Pogba’s well executed volley, which took United ahead of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League, prompted rapturous and intimate celebrations, followed by a dance between Pogba and Eric Bailly, which featured prominent handshake.
United boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said clubs ‘try our best’ to fall within the rules.
‘Football is a game that brings out the best and worst [emotions], but we also understand the concern that there should be less emotions and less hugging,’ he said after the victory.
Wolves’ players had a celebratory scrum when they equalised in their match against Everton
HOW PREMIER LEAGUE STARS BROKE RULES
Tottenham’s Sergio Reguilon, Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso were fined and reminded of their responsibilities after they were pictured in a large group photo alongside West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini and their families on Christmas Day.
Manchester City say they are investigating after Benjamin Mendy held a New Year’s Eve party which included guests from outside his household. He was a substitute in City’s next game.
Crystal Palace and Fulham launches investigations into Aleksandar Mitrovic and Luka Milivojevic after they were pictured partying together – but Palace fielded the midfielder as captain in their next game.
‘But it is difficult when you score because you want to celebrate with your teammates. We will try our best to follow the guidelines, but it is difficult. We want football to continue.’
The Premier League transgressions come after the FA Cup third round ties at the weekend when teams almost universally engaged in group hugs and Chorley and Crawley Town celebrated with a singsong and champagne, respectively, in the dressing room.
And this comes after breaches of Covid rules by seven Premier League players form five clubs during the festive period, when they attended parties in breach
Government sources have told Sportsmail that there is ‘growing frustration’ among ministers who don’t want to see footballers breaking the rules in their private life or hugging on the pitch.
It is felt the images ‘increasingly jar’ with the sight of doctors struggling to save lives in the overburdened NHS or the experience of most people who are locked down with no end in sight.
Today Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, has said that footballers should socially distance after scoring a goal.
Asked on LBC by Nick Ferrari whether footballers should stop celebrating goals with group hugs, Professor Van-Tam said: ‘Every close human contact that is avoidable should be avoided because one in three of us will get the infection and have no symptoms at all.
‘So yes, I’m afraid on the football point, on the sporting point, I do agree with you.
‘Right now let’s be very clear: disease levels are very high across the whole of the country.
‘It would matter a very great deal more if we had a really very patchy distribution of very high areas (of infection) and very low (areas of infection), and sporting exchanges like that would make more of a difference.
‘But it’s just the basic point for now – and (chief medical officer) Chris Whitty has said this and he means it, and I mean it too – that we right now have just got to stay at home, keep off the streets, keep out of the shops, keep away from each other – unfortunate and unlikeable though that is – and let the NHS do its job dealing with these thousands of people who are sick, and let the NHS do its job rolling out the most ambitious vaccine programme we’ve ever undertaken.’
On Tuesday, Dr Julian Tang, a consultant virologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Associate Professor at the University of Leicester, said the way to tackle ‘celebratory scrums’, which are high risk for transmission, is to educate players and then impose a sanction, if only until most of the population is vaccinated.
‘If you have a scrum you have close contact for several seconds and that can transmit the virus.
‘You go home and you can spread it among your own bubble that can include elderly friends and family, which could put them in hospital or cause their death.
Three Spurs stars and a West Ham player (identified above) broke rules to party despite Covid-19 restrictions being in place over the Christmas period
‘So, why take the risk to yourself or your contacts from a single 10 or 20 second scrum. You don’t have to do it.
‘If it happens once you get a yellow card and if it happens again you are off.
‘It is a disincentive for that contact, recognising that it could have much bigger consequences.’
However, the Premier League says there is no provision in the rules to punish transgressions on the pitch and wants clubs to take action against individuals where they fall foul of the rules.
Crawley Town also celebrated in their remarkable win over Leeds United in the FA Cup
Last week, 36 players and staff from the Premier League tested positive for Covid from 2,295 tests. This is an infection rate of 1.39 per cent, compared to 2.06 per cent nationwide.
Last week’s tests in the EFL revealed 123 cases out of 4,038 tests, an infection rate of 3.05 per cent.
Latest data revealed that 45,533 people tested positive for the virus on Monday, taking the seven-day average down by 0.5 per cent – the first fall in weeks.
However, some government scientists fear the true case rate is more than 250,000 a day.
PREMIER LEAGUE COVID-19 TEST RESULTS FOR 2020-21 SEASON
Round 1: Aug 31-Sep 6 – 1,605 tested, with three testing positive.
Round 2: Sep 7-13 – 2,131 tested, with four testing positive.
Round 3: Sep 14-20- 1,574 tested, with three testing positive.
Round 4: Sep 21-27 – 1,595 tested, with 10 testing positive.
Round 5: Sep 28-Oct 4 – 1,587 tested, with nine testing positive.
Round 6: Oct 5-11 – 1,128 tested, with five testing positive.
Round 7: Oct 12-18 – 1,575 tested, with eight testing positive.
Round 8: Oct 19-25 – 1,609 tested, with two testing positive.
Round 9: Oct 26-Nov 1 – 1,446 tested, with four testing positive.
Round 10: Nov 2-8 – 1,646 tested, with four testing positive.
Round 11: Nov 9-15 – 1,207 tested, with 16 testing positive.
Round 12: Nov 16-22 – 1,530 tested, with eight testing positive.
Round 13: Nov 23-29 – 1,381 tested, with 10 testing positive.
Round 14: Nov 30-Dec 6 – 1,483 tested, with 14 testing positive.
Round 15: Dec 7-13 – 1,549 tested, with six testing positive.
Round 16: Dec 14-20 – 1,569 tested, with seven testing positive
Round 17: Dec 21-27 – 1,479 tested, with 18 testing positive
Round 18: Dec 28-Jan 3 – 2,295 tested, with 40 testing positive
Round 19: Jan 4-Jan 10 – 2,593 tested, with 36 testing positive