Footballers have been warned to stop hugging during goal celebrations and after matches and to observe social distancing on the pitch, in an attempt to slow the rapid spread of coronavirus in clubs.
The edict comes after intense celebrations at high profile games, including a huge group hug among Manchester City ‘s players after they knocked rivals Manchester United out of the Carabao Cup in Wednesday’s semi-final at Old Trafford.
But this is only the latest example, with Southampton’s passionate celebration of Danny Ings’ goal, which defeated Liverpool at St Mary’s on Monday, or Wolves jubliant cuddle after going 3-1 up at Brighton on Saturday, equally intimate.
Existing Covid protocols stress the need for social distancing, but Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, has reminded players to keep their distance.
‘We’ve sent a message to all our members saying, ‘you have done a great job, you’ve kept the game going and you deserve a lot of credit, but it’s important you keep to the protocols,’ Taylor told The Times.
‘Always abide by what you’re being told by doctors and medical staff with regard to the protocols about keeping your distance and the hygiene that’s required.
‘I understand with the celebration of a goal it’s difficult to just put the ball in the back of the net and act as though nothing has happened.
‘It’s that adrenaline rush… that’s what the game is all about, but that’s part and parcel of the process, so they’ll be reminded.’
The virus is spreading rapidly in the game. Forty players and staff tested positive for Covid in the latest rounds of Premier League testing this week, double the number of the week before and the highest firgure to date.
Four Premier League games and over 50 matches in the English Football League – which governs the three divisions below the top flight – have been postponed this season.
And third round FA Cup ties are also badly affected. The protocols are likely to be put to the test again this weekend with emotions inevitably running high in the competition.