Iain McMenemy: Breaking coronavirus rules will lead to double the cost for clubs

Players breaching Covid protocols is likely to mean expensive twice a week testing will have to continue

Friday, 14th August 2020, 7:30 am
Celtic defender Boli Bolingoli, left, breached coronavirus rules by playing against Kilmarnock on Sunday despite returning from Spain without quarantining. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Celtic defender Boli Bolingoli, left, breached coronavirus rules by playing against Kilmarnock on Sunday despite returning from Spain without quarantining. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

This has been another tough week for Scottish football. Yet again, it’s self-inflicted. Not the clubs this time, but a handful of players who saw no issues in disregarding the Covid protocols that have been put in place.

Both clubs involved, Aberdeen and Celtic will be furious. I know just how much time both clubs have spent putting all the necessary procedures in place to create a safe environment for players and staff. As an example, Celtic was one of the first clubs to develop a fully detailed protocol that they shared with other clubs. This helped many of us develop our own plans. For one player in their case, to undo that good work will be a sore one to take.

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The impact of the two high profile incidents is clear for all to see. The First Minister did not waste any time in savaging them and their actions and sending Scottish football a clear message – no more chances.

These issues could not have come at a worse time. Football had dropped from twice a week testing to once a week. This was put back to twice a week when St Mirren recorded a small cluster of positive tests that were later identified as false positives with only one positive for coronavirus. We all expected the testing to drop back to once a week but that now looks in doubt. It’s an obvious point, twice weekly testing instead of once a week is double the financial cost to clubs. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been spent by the 12 Premiership clubs and it looks like this may continue for some time yet. Many clubs in the leagues below the Premiership are now in discussions with testing providers. The costs are significant. By the time all 42 clubs are up and running, the cost of testing will be running into seven figures overall. We’ll be spending over a million pounds on testing players. This is crazy.

Other sports beyond football are all waiting to see when they can return. Some are already back, but anything involving close contact is still supposed to be paused. All eyes are on football. We need everyone to comply with the rules so that sport can return.

There will be positive tests within many different sports. This is where test, track and trace will then kick in. That system is exactly what is being used in all other walks of life. It can happen in sport too. We need to all do what is needed to make this happen.

There are lots of good reasons why we can remove the need for testing from sport. Schools are back, with no testing in place. Whilst there are competing studies out there regarding transmission amongst young people, there is no doubt that the rate of infection increases as you get older. So older school kids and teachers are all susceptible. However, it’s been deemed that the risks are worth taking to get our kids back in education.

Our airports are open and flights arrive every day. Despite us having a quarantine arrangement in place for travellers, there is no management or enforcement of this so the system is wide open to abuse. This is known and the risks accepted.

Restaurants and bars are open. Whilst there is an agreed set of rules in place, it is widely known that not all establishments are complying. The First Minister herself has made reference to the ‘night time economy’ being a known source of issues related to the spread of the virus. The Government is trying to balance the economy to the health of the nation. This is a difficult situation to manage, but they are willing to accept some risk in order to keep the economy alive.

We need to start thinking about football in the economic sense too. Football clubs are all individual businesses. Even a smaller club, like Stenhousemuir, is an important part of the local economy. We have over 40 staff on the payroll, with others on irregular or fixed term hours for coaching. We use local suppliers for everything from our pies, to our kit, to our boards and banners.

Multiply that economic impact across the 42 professional clubs in communities across Scotland. Now add in the other leagues in Scotland. Many of them including clubs in the Highland and Lowland leagues are significant operations too, again employing dozens of people and supporting their local economies.

The challenge we face is to get all these businesses back up and running. At the moment it feels like we are just facing reasons why we can’t start, because we are just playing games of football. We need to move the debate on to what we can do to get our football businesses open as safely as possible.

The Government is willing to accept risks in other sectors to balance the economy with the risks of virus spread. We need to have that same reasoning applied to football. Twice a week testing is there to eliminate the virus altogether. If that isn’t being applied to so many other areas of Scottish life, then it shouldn’t be applied to football.

Whilst I believe these arguments are valid, we first need to ensure that we have our own house in order. The current rules are there for a reason. We need to stick to them.

* Iain McMenemy is the chairman of League 2 club Stenhousemuir.

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