Coronavirus pandemic: Premier League's inaction turned into a strategy; UEFA's meeting crucial for European football

Globally there are 1,57,197 cases of Coronavirus, with 5,839 total deaths, with 5,651 patients in serious conditions so far. This is not taking into account the numbers that are forced to self-isolate, waiting out for other symptoms of the disease to show up, and the numbers who are unable to secure treatment. Even the ISIS in an official statement in their newsletter al-Naba have advised their members not to travel to Europe in light of the crisis. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. But, until recently, the Premier League would have its teams, players, support staff travel across England to placate their investors and deliver on their contracts.

The Premier League is relentless. It shouldn’t heel and turn away from the virus. It should face the threat headfirst. The pandemic will not survive the sheer pressure and intensity of our game. We have the feet to outrun it, and the best managerial minds in the world to unravel its structural integrity. You might have heard defiant rhetoric similar to this coming from the Premier League commentators during this weekend until better sense prevailed and the Premier League, EFL, FA Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship suspended until the 3rd of April.

Latest Chinese projection from leading virologists predicts that there will be a considerable downturn of contamination in the coming summer months and that it may entirely succumb to the heat by June-end. Zhong Nanshan, China’s advisor on all matters pandemic, confirmed the estimations last day. Zhong Nanshan is apotheosised in China for his body of work against SARS and a public figure of trust.

Thus, April is an overly optimistic projection as certain, conclusive symptoms of the coronavirus only rear its ugly head over the duration of two weeks according to the World Health organisation.

 Coronavirus pandemic: Premier Leagues inaction turned into a strategy; UEFAs meeting crucial for European football

File image of Mikel Arteta. AP

The timeline in itself alludes to the priority of the league, ie, to not wait out the virus with the match-goers in mind, but to wait and see how many of the players and managerial staff of the 20 Premier League clubs are fully functional. The timeline is made in mind with the intention to play out the remaining of the season behind closed doors, robbing paying fans of the privilege to see their teams in the flesh. That was until this Friday.

How much of that decision to suspend matches is to their own credit? Very little. The decision was made for them, and under duress, with a stiff upper lip, taken across the chin. Chelsea’s Callum Hudson Odoi and Arsenal’s manager Mikel Arteta were self-isolating after displaying the initial symptoms of the disease.

There was always a feeling among cynics that it would have come to a point where clubs start pulling out in consensus with the competing clubs, for Premier League to overcome their money-minded opaqueness. And it wasn’t unfounded. The Premier League decsion-makers are held accountable by its numbers stock-holders and sponsors. Unlike the NBA, the Premier League has nothing in the way of a ‘Doomsday Provision’ that addresses all the questions a league can be posed from the franchise boardrooms, protecting everyone’s best interests.

Adrian Wojnarowski, ESPN’s Senior NBA Insider reported of a detailed e-mail sent out underlining measures and guidelines that could save owners from paying off a percentage of the players’ fees if rest of the season is disrupted from coronavirus.

In contrast, measures Premier League had taken was superfluous and perfunctory, a game of who blinks first.

Outside of China, Italy has been hit the hardest. Following Daniele Rugani’s contamination confirmation three days ago, the total number of cases touched 21,000 with 1,441 deaths. What is to be noted is that over 30 percentage of Italy’s population is over the age of 50 – the age group most susceptible to the disease.

For people who are well away and below this age group, the disease often dies out in the lungs (82 percentage of the time), but for those who suffer from respiratory problems, heart conditions, and hypertension are the most under threat according to reports from the National Geographic. Increased blood pressure due to an over-worked immune system, unprecedented congestion in the lungs with pneumonia-like symptoms, diarrhoea (25 percentage of the patients displayed irregular bowel movement), and collateral liver damage are primary indications.

It would not be irresponsible to deduce from the numbers that footballers and athletes, while at risk, due to years of physical conditioning are better off than era-spanning season ticket holders. A football club’s backbone is built on returning customers, and a bulk of them have been there for a while, to say the least.

The Liverpool vs Atletico match midweek drew one of the largest gathering of Liverpool fans since their encounter with Barcelona in last year’s edition. Pyros, chants, flags, scarves, banter, chips, paella. Pre-match ceremonies are a petri dish of maximal social contact across age groups.

This was at a time when France already realising the threat affected the match between to be played behind-closed-doors; staff and players of Chinese Wuhan Zall FC were stranded away in a training camp in Spain for six weeks; plane carrying the AS Roma was not authorised to land in Seville. Spain promptly after declared all direct flights from Italy to be soonly suspended.

It had to turn to a question of legal liability of facilitating health hazards, for the Premier League to appear to placate. History will remember the English League as the last of the major football leagues to declare postponement.

In a recent poll by Guardian, less than 36 percent of England has faith in their leadership. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s inefficacy have a trickle-down effect on every major English organisation’s policy, and the Premier League is no exception.

The Prime Minister said in a public announcement on Saturday: “I must level with you. Many more families will lose their loved ones before their time.” At a time when the rest of the world are practising strict containment methods, travel bans, mass lockdowns, working from home, deferring to online courses; the Boris Johnson government has diverged away from common sense, kept Britain’s schools wide open, and is professing a ‘herd immunity’ method that could see 60 percent of its population infected with the virus before they can overcome it. That exposing a large section of the population to the virus would help build immunity in the long-term against developing and further mutating strains of the COVID-19 virus.

How much does this stance play into the innate aloofness, classism that still exists in English governance in general, or a large-scale apathy for Europe’s collective intelligence, or is it something simpler and sinister – a lack of competence or care?

Matches played behind-closed-doors will still attract crowds to the stadium’s backdoors, where players make their way into the facilities, Liverpool fans more than most, hot in the heels of a historic season. In the social scene, UK’s National Health Service are creaking with budget cuts and unemployment rates being highest since the Margaret Thatcher government and will be ill-equipped to deal with a mass outbreak, owning to the measures or the lack of to reinvigorate one of the pillars of UK - free to minimally priced healthcare.

As Benjamin Mueller of the New York Times noted, “Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain once said his political hero was the mayor in the film “Jaws,” praising him for defying mass hysteria to keep the beaches open after a constituent is eaten by a shark.” This move has drawn stern criticism from scientists and epdimeoligists. At the time of writing this feature, UK has 1,140 cases of the virus, 21 deaths. Numbers are expected to blow up due to the prevailing overcast weather conditions, facilitating a habitat for the contagion.

For Boris Johnson government and the Premier League head honchos, inaction had turned into a strategy.

Angelo Ogbonna, an Italian international playing for Premier League outfit West Ham has come out to attack the passivity: “It’s not just football, but this problem is ingrained in the English mentality. They still don’t realise the danger of a virus that can be passed on in seconds. Their sympathy is superficial, at the very least.” He went onto accuse the FA of gross negligence for allowing their game vs Arsenal to go forward despite Olympiakos’ (a team the Gunners faced in the Europa League) president testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. The Olympiakos president was present and seen interacting with Arsenal officials in the VIP box.

Nigel Pearson, the Watford whose mother recently passed away spoke scathingly and added voice to the overall mutiny.

Not everyone’s motives are pure. In the spirit of self-interest, Karen Brady has called for the Premier League season to be declared null and void instead of continuing when circumstances better. She, a vice-chairman of West Ham would stand to benefit from this decision, as her team is favourites for the relegation zone.

Many fans whose teams have done poorly this season are siding with this solution, masking their tribalism in the garb of diplomacy. Liverpool’s fierce rivals, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham fans are among those who lead the faux chivalry on social media.

It’s disingenuous and duplicitous to level this argument against table-toppers Liverpool who are more than twenty points clear of the second-placed competitor Manchester City. It is unfair to criticise Liverpool’s supporter base to wanting to win the league, wanting the matches to be continued in due time, citing that one life is worth more than a trophy, and then to secretly deriving schadenfreude from them not winning it.

Almost empty stadium approaches are seen around the Etihad Stadium. AP

Almost empty stadium approaches are seen around the Etihad Stadium. AP

Before the Mikel Arteta news broke out like a hailstorm through the bedroom window there was a top-tier Premier League meeting arranged to discuss the facilitation of the closed-door matches Saturday, the 14th of March, 2020, onwards. The news caught the hierarchy sleeping, then shivering in their pyjamas and gowns. They have been scampering ever since, unable to form a solidified message. We are still waiting on an official line.

The Independent are citing one source embedded in the FA, asserting that the shutdown may be on effect till September. While The Telegraph citing another FA source claim that the Premier League are attempting damage control and will crown Liverpool Premier League Champions, in the backdrop of an uncertain timeline and nonexistent guidelines in a situation as unprecedented as this one. FA chief Greg Clarke added to this fear by suggesting that this could potentially be the longest suspension of football since the break out of World War 2, with possibly more financial repercussions on English football, with the world markets in a downturn.

A lot will depend on the UEFA stakeholders video conference scheduled for Tuesday evening. The choice will be to either extend the suspension on Europa League and the Champions League or to cancel it. The agenda will also include the fate of Euro 2020; the second biggest international football competition in the world could similarly be postponed or cancelled.

What needs to be accounted for too is that the continuation of domestic leagues are subjective to how much a country has suffered from the pandemic. Italy, for example, would be worse off than England. And in the case of non-completion of any league, how will Champions League spots be decided for one association and not the other that can’t continue? These are some of the heavy questions that need to be addressed in Tuesday’s meeting.

The Premier League, clearly, unable to arrive at decisions on their won, will look to the UEFA’s statements and tow the same tact for their emergency meeting scheduled for Thursday. The buck has to stop passing as does the contagion.

Updated Date: Mar 15, 2020 15:00:08 IST



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