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Footballers flouting Covid rules in group hugs is ‘brainless’ and an ‘insult to the NHS’ claim MPs


Footballers are acting in a ‘brainless’ way that is ‘an insult to the NHS’ by engaging in group hugs after scoring goals, senior politicians have claimed.

Players have been warned to avoid ‘unnecessary contact at all times’ including ‘handshakes and hugging’ in a set of tough new rules sent to Premier League clubs on Friday.

Ministers have also made clear they don’t want to see images of footballers flouting social distancing rules at a time of national crisis, and such actions make it harder to justify the continuation of elite sport during a national lockdown.

Eight Manchester City players hugged after Phil Foden scored against Brighton last night

Eight Manchester City players hugged after Phil Foden scored against Brighton last night

However, so far, few teams have abided by the edict to avoid hugging, with players at Sheffield United, Manchester United, Everton and Wolves engaging in close, exuberant celebrations on Tuesday.

And on Wednesday, Manchester City formed a celebratory scrum including eight players after Phil Foden scored the only goal in their win over Brighton and Fulham mobbed Ivan Cavaleiro after he equalised in the 1-1 draw at Tottenham Hotspur.

Even before the latest scenes, Julian Knight, the chairman of the Parliamentary Department of Culture Media and Sport Committee, had seen enough.

‘These people are looked up to, they’re role models, and not to respect any form of social distancing in that way – at a time of national emergency – is brainless at best and negligent at worst,’ he told the Telegraph.

Fulham players came together after their late equalizer at Tottenham Hotspur

Fulham players came together after their late equalizer at Tottenham Hotspur

Ivan Cavaleiro scored to make the game level and continue Fulham's Premier League revival

Ivan Cavaleiro scored to make the game level and continue Fulham’s Premier League revival

The former shadow sports minister, who has relatives working in the NHS, added: ‘These people are absolutely putting themselves on the line every day for us, and they are appealing to people to obey the rules. And footballers should listen to them and see that they are in a position of influence where they can help the NHS get us through this very difficult time.’

And DCMS committee member, Clive Efford, a Tottenham Hotspur fan, told the paper that the celebrations were an ‘insult to the staff in the NHS’.

‘To see millionaire footballers just flouting the rules in the way they are is just absolutely disgusting and is beyond contempt,’ he said. 

On Tuesday, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder and Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Soljskaer defended their players for making emotional reactions to goals.

Everton's players enjoyed an exuberant celebration after scoring in their win away to Wolves

Everton’s players enjoyed an exuberant celebration after scoring in their win away to Wolves

Manchester City manager Per Guardiola made a similar claim for his team last night. But Efford is unimpressed with these arguments.

‘It’s an idiotic response. Because, basically, if you strip back what they’re saying, they are saying that football should be closed down, because no matter what you do, you can’t stop this happening,’ he said before EWednesday’s fixtures.

Following City’s victory at the Etihad, Guardiola said: ‘I respect the protocols from the Premier League. I understand completely what they are trying to do. But the moment you score a goal and one guy runs and the others don’t go to celebrate with him, it is weird and uncomfortable.

Sheffield United players embraced after scoring in their first win of the season

Sheffield United players embraced after scoring in their first win of the season

MP Clive Efford wants footballers to social distance after goals

Julian Knight, chairman of the DCMS committee, says group hugs are 'brainless'

MPs Clive Efford (left) and Julian Knight, the chairman of the DCMS Committee, have spoken out about footballers hugging after goals during the coronavirus pandemic

‘We are tested maybe five or six times in the last 10 days. Everyone is negative. We are outdoors where the virus is less aggressive. We will follow what the Premier League says but I don’t know if we will be able to do it.’

The Premier League says that the clubs should investigate and sanction ‘individual transgressions by relevant persons’.

It’s guidance 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.’

Paul Pogba was mobbed by Manchester United team mates when he scored a goal at Burnley

Paul Pogba was mobbed by Manchester United team mates when he scored a goal at Burnley

While many Covid regulations are in place and being followed, the stipulation around hugging is perhaps the highest profile and become a touchpoint for ministers.

Sports minister Nigel Huddlestone has expressed his view to the football authorities and on Tuesday tweeted: ‘Everyone in the country has had to change the way they interact with people and ways of working.

‘Footballers are no exception. Covid-secure guidelines exist for football. Footballers must follow them and football authorities enforce them strictly.’

Spurs Harry Kane managed the celebrations with high fives all round after scoring

Spurs Harry Kane managed the celebrations with high fives all round after scoring 

And Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, has added his voice to the debate, saying footballers should socially distance after scoring a goal.

A string of leading virologists and public health experts have also told Sportsmail that hugging after goals is a risk in terms of transmission of the virus, but also sets a bad example to the rest of the country at a time when the new variant is spreading rapidly.

However, Tottenham Hotspur showed players can keep their distance after scoring. When Harry Kane put his Spurs’ side 1-0 up against Fulham the skipper managed the celebrations with high fives all round. 

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