Football is facing a total ban on matches if players keep flouting lockdown rules amid fears they are undermining public confidence, Oliver Dowden warns
- Elite games are allowed while amateur sport is banned under national lockdown
- But Culture Secretary says it could be shut down if players keep breaching rules
- The warning comes following an outcry over Christmas and New Year incidents
Elite football could be shut down if players keep flouting lockdown rules, warns Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.
He fears high-profile breaches undermine public confidence and risk spreading the virus.
Elite games are allowed while amateur sport is banned but Mr Dowden has raised concerns about players’ off-the-pitch behaviour with football chiefs.
A source said: ‘It does not help the case for keeping it open if players are throwing parties or getting professional haircuts.
In one, Tottenham’s Sergio Reguilon, Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso partied with West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini, breaking strict Tier 4 rules.
‘Players are in a privileged position and if they don’t take responsibility in their personal lives it brings the government’s whole approach into question.’
It comes as Arsenal took out a £120million loan from the Bank of England to help maintain its finances in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The warning follows an outcry over Christmas and New Year incidents. In one, Tottenham’s Sergio Reguilon, Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso partied with West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini, breaking strict Tier 4 rules.
Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic also apologised for breaking Covid rules at a New Year’s Eve party with Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy has also come under fire after hosting a house party for friends on New Year’s Eve.
Elite football could be shut down if players keep flouting lockdown rules, warns Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden. He fears high-profile breaches undermine public confidence and risk spreading the virus
During the first lockdown last year, some players were also reported to have received professional haircuts while barbershops were still closed by law.
Mr Dowden’s warning came at a meeting on Monday with senior officials from the Premier League, Football Association and English Football League.
On Wednesday, the Professional Footballers’ Association, which represents stars, issued its own warning to members.
In a statement, the PFA said that any breach of lockdown rules risked spreading the virus and was ‘potentially hugely damaging for fellow players, clubs and the game as a whole’.
But the PFA also warned players that they have a duty to act as role models, adding: ‘We are now entering another critical stage of the pandemic. Although prospects are brighter due to the vaccine’s imminent rollout, players must continue to take the lead and act responsibly and professionally.
‘Between now and the end of the season, we ask that you continue to take personal responsibility and follow the lockdown rules, without exception.’ Elite football was exempted from the lockdown this year after ministers decided that allowing matches to go ahead would boost the morale of fans stuck at home.
The sport has introduced tough rules designed to halt the spread of the virus among players and coaching staff, including twice-weekly testing.
Despite this, the Premier League this week revealed the latest round of testing had revealed 40 new cases of the virus.
Arsenal have borrowed £120m from the Bank of England’s Covid Financing Facility scheme
Championship side Derby County announced this week it would have to field a youth team side in an FA Cup tie against Chorley tomorrow following an outbreak of the virus among the first team.
The £120million short-term loan, which is repayable in May 2021, has been a method of helping clubs ease the burden on their finances – with north London neighbours Tottenham using it the scheme to borrow £175m last summer.
WHAT IS THE CCFF?
On March 17, the Treasury revealed a number of measures to support businesses during the pandemic.
The Covid Corporate Financing Facility was one of the major schemes set up.
It was intended to support liquidity among larger firms and bridge disruption to their cash flows through the purchase of commercial paper.
To be eligible, applicants must make a significant contribution to the UK economy and have a high credit rating.
Arsenal’s north London rivals Tottenham made use of the scheme last summer – taking out a £175m loan to manage its finances during the first lockdown.
It has also been utilised by the FA, who borrowed the same amount in December.
In a statement, the club said: ‘As we continue to work through the implications of the global pandemic on our finances, we can confirm today that the club has met the criteria set by the Bank of England for the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF).
‘As a result, we are taking a short-term £120million loan through this facility to partially assist in managing the impacts of the revenue losses attributable to the pandemic. This is a similar approach to that taken by a wide variety of major organisations across many industries including sport, and is repayable in May 2021.
‘The CCFF is in addition to the loan provided by our owners Kroenke, Sports & Entertainment that enabled us to refinance the debt on Emirates Stadium in August last year.’
Tottenham confirmed the facility would not be used for player acquisitions after taking out their loan last year. Arsenal’s statement made no mention of this, although it is believed the money cannot be used in the market.
The CCFF was launched on March 17 last year by the bank, which sees the scheme as a way to help companies bridge disruption to their cash flows.
The scheme is thought to have been used by over 200 companies, including EasyJet, Marks & Spencers and Greggs.
The latest figures from Arsenal’s accounts, released last February, showed a £27m loss after failing to win a place in the lucrative Champions League in the year ending May 31, 2019 – down from a profit of £56.5m from 2018.
They also refinanced stadium debt via a loan through owner Stan Kroenke’s ‘Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (KSE)’ firm.
Last summer Arsenal spent nearly £80m on transfers – including £45m on midfielder Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid, £23m for the signature of Lille defender Gabriel Magalhaes and £7.2m on Pablo Mari.
Arsenal spent £45m on Thomas Partey (left) last year and still pay outcast Mesut Ozil (left) £350,000-a-week
Many big-money transfers in football are paid out over a number of years, rather than cash being handed over up front.
The club made use of free transfers to land Cedric Soares from Southampton and Willian from Arsenal, while also offloading goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa for £20m.
The Gunners still have a number of big money earners on their books, including outcast Mesut Ozil – who is on £350,000 a week despite being left out of Mikel Arteta’s Premier League and Europa League squads.
The German has not featured once this season, with his last game for the Gunners coming before the Premier League restart during the last lockdown.
Arsenal are willing to sell the former Real Madrid star this month, Arteta said this week, but only if the deal was right for the club.
ARSENAL STATEMENT IN FULL
As we continue to work through the implications of the global pandemic on our finances, we can confirm today that the club has met the criteria set by the Bank of England for the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF).
As a result, we are taking a short-term £120 million loan through this facility to partially assist in managing the impacts of the revenue losses attributable to the pandemic. This is a similar approach to that taken by a wide variety of major organisations across many industries including sport, and is repayable in May 2021.
The CCFF is designed to provide short-term finance at commercial rates during the pandemic to companies that have strong investment ratings and which make significant contributions to the British economy.
The CCFF is in addition to the loan provided by our owners Kroenke, Sports & Entertainment that enabled us to refinance the debt on Emirates Stadium in August last year.
JEFF POWELL: Football continuing through lockdown is a national scandal. The superstar super-spreaders are putting lives at risk on and off the pitch… and Government backing them is a disgrace
Professional football’s manic desperation to carry on playing no matter the cost – the threat to lives and freedom of speech included – is now a national scandal.
So is the government’s connivance in this disgrace under the disguise of its reckless concessions to elite sport.
As more and more footballers test positive for coronavirus, the more they flout the lockdown restrictions imposed on the rest of us, the more they jet off for sunshine breaks on the pretence it is work, the more danger to the community around them.
Premier League players are becoming Superstar Spreaders of Covid-19. Not only because of their up-yours partying, their late night car crashes and their arrogant, disingenuous apologies. The way they conduct themselves on the pitch is putting us all in greater jeopardy.
Their mass hugging, kissing and collapsing into piles of writhing bodies when one of them somehow manages to score a goal is not only embarrassingly infantile but a gross breach of the regulations under which the game was permitted to resume.
Not even the managers, who are supposed to keep them under control, can resist embracing each other.
Tottenham trio Sergio Reguilon, Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso along with West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini broke rules to party despite Covid-19 restrictions in place over Christmas
Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic (left) celebrates at a New Year’s Eve party with Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic – in another breach of Covid-19 rules by Premier League footballers
Their conduct on the pitch isn’t helping matters too as they continue to embrace in celebration
When they eventually make it home – via their jollies with so-called ‘models’ ferried in for their relaxation – more and more are infectious to their partners and children who in turn mingle with friends and neighbours. Even as the national rates of positive tests and fatalities sky rocket.
And as the days go by since lockdown evicted the 2,000 fans unwisely allowed back into grounds, it is visible on TV that so many more people are filling seats in the stands that it is impossible to believe they are all reserves, officials and key employees. Mates, relatives and favoured hangers-on, more likely.
All for what? You guessed it, for money. The TV rights fees, the obscene wages of top players and – let us not forget – directors led by Manchester United’s Edward Woodward on his £3million-plus per year.
Yet they all scream what a financial catastrophe it would be to stop playing. So why should football clubs be treated so differently from the thousands of shops, pubs, restaurants, gyms, hairdressers – to name but a few businesses – which are going bankrupt in the national interest? Or the millions of workers being made redundant and destitute?
If the clubs need to save cash, then furlough their celebrities in boots on the maximum £2,500 a month and see how they like it. Along with Mr Woodward and Co while they’re at it.
What is not so obvious is the Government’s hidden agenda. The pandering to football – which began with allowing Liverpool to host Atletico Madrid and thousands of their fans from Covid-polluted Spain for a Champions League match – is rank populism. Give the people something to cheer.
The opiate of the masses, football used to be called after the war. Now it is more likely to be the death of us.
This is not the only ‘elite’ sport being given special dispensation – athletes booked for the Tokyo Olympics, which may not happen, will seemingly jump the vaccination queue – but it is the most prolific and increasingly the most virus prevalent. And at least some other disciplines are putting football to shame by tightening their safeguards.
British boxing has led the way by suspending all activity until the end of January, at the earliest. Rugby’s ban on final whistle handshakes is not much more than a gesture in a game of scrums, mauls and rucks but it is a damn sight more than football is doing to curb celebrations.
Last March thousands of Atletico Madrid fans were allowed to travel to Anfield for their Champions League clash at Liverpool – despite Spain’s ever-growing Covid-19 cases back then
Yet who dares to speak out? Only Sam Allardyce, back in management with West Bromwich Albion, who urged the game to take a circuit-breaker as the Covid outbreak spread.
Freedom of speech became a collateral casualty of coronavirus as the Premier League wrote to its clubs to make it clear they will not suspend the top-flight season. This is sinister.
Virtual silence, also, from the Premier League and the FA as they hid behind legal technicalities while refraining from condemnation or sanctioning for outrageous breaches of pandemic protocol by their rich and famous. ‘It’s up to the clubs,’ they chorused. Fat chance there, as the offenders promptly appear on team sheets.
Never mind that every match cancelled, postponed or even played with Covid-weakened teams further accelerates the loss of integrity in all competitions. Nor does anyone in football seem to realise that public confidence and enthusiasm is being eroded by every match played in the artificial sterility of matches devoid of fans and atmosphere.
West Brom’s Sam Allardyce, 66, is the only Premier League boss calling for a circuit-breaker
I am one of millions steeped in this great game. My grandfather played for Bury in their pomp and had me kicking a ball as soon as I could stand. But we want to see football played the way it always has been, for the thrills, the courage, the glory, the endeavour. Not just for the filthy lucre.
Until that becomes possible once more, this deadly nonsense has to stop.
As the risk to public health worsens it won’t be merely an asterisk which needs to appear alongside the roster of champions and cup-winners. It will be a gravestone.
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