Images of players celebrating inside tightly packed dressing rooms were an unwelcome feature of FA Cup third-round weekend – while crowds of fans gathering outside cup ties drew criticism and caught the attention of government ministers.
On the back of players from all levels of the game apologising for various coronavirus rule breaches, the case for football to continue while the rest of society is locked down is coming under increasing scrutiny.
“Morally, with the situation we have in this country and worldwide, to keep doing what we are doing is a little bit of a strange feeling,” Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta said on Monday. “We know what we can bring to society if we are able to do it in safe way.”
In the Premier League, referees will speak to captains and managers before matches to remind them to observe social distancing guidelines, including around situations like goal celebrations and handshakes.
New EFL chief executive Trevor Birch wrote to all clubs on Monday, warning them “now is not the time for complacency” over Covid protocols, adding: “We will come under extreme governmental pressure if we continue to flout the rules and guidance in place.
“It is more important than ever that all club staff and players vigilantly follow the processes to avoid a suspension and the implications, particularly financial, associated with such a drastic course of action.”
BBC sports editor Dan Roan says while elite sport is not yet in the “last-chance saloon”, there are “no guarantees” with “patience wearing thin”.
What is the background?
Over the weekend, the UK passed the milestone of 80,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic and there is debate about whether England’s lockdown restrictions should be tightened even further.
But some elite sport has been able to continue under strict protocols established in the summer.
With several shock results in this weekend’s FA Cup, players were keen to celebrate, but videos from the dressing rooms with players not socially distancing has led to criticism on social media.
There were also images of fans gathered outside Marine’s stadium in Crosby, Merseyside, before their match against Tottenham on Sunday.
Merseyside Police said the “vast majority of people present were adhering to social-distancing measures and those who were not were advised by officers”.
More than 60 games in England have been called off this season, with Aston Villa’s match against Tottenham on Wednesday the fifth Premier League postponement.
Players from Spurs, Fulham, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Manchester City were recently criticised by their clubs for breaking England’s restrictions over the new year holiday.
In the Women’s Super League, Arsenal’s trip to Aston Villa and Manchester City’s home game with West Ham were both postponed after five players tested positive for coronavirus following trips to Dubai over Christmas.
Read More:‘Patience wearing thin’ with football