'Footballers cuddling to celebrate goals should be booked or SENT OFF'

Footballers who cuddle to celebrate a goal should be booked and repeat offenders SENT OFF, insists leading virologist – or else players can easily catch Covid and take it home to their families

  • Football authorities need to take a tougher line with players who break Covid rules because huddles and scrums after goals present a high risk of transmission
  • FA, Premier League and EFL are under pressure from government to improve the game’s compliance with protocols on and off the pitch after repeated breaches
  • Dr Julian Tang asks, ‘why take the risk of spreading the virus in celebrations?’
  • Game’s administrators are yet to highlight sanctions against players or clubs 

Football must change its rules to allow referees to dish out yellow or red cards to any player who hugs or cuddles a team mate, in order to stem the spread of mutant Covid in the game, according to a leading virologist.

The lack of social distancing in matches has become a huge issue for football after exuberant celebrations from players and staff in the FA Cup third round, and it is one of the factors fuelling calls for the game to be suspended.

But Dr Julian Tang has called on the sport’s governing bodies to take action to reduce the risk of transmitting the new variant of the virus with a simple rule change.

Crawley Town celebrated on and off the pitch after their win over Leeds United in the FA Cup

Dr Tang’s comments come after government expressed its ‘growing frustration’ to the football authorities over repeated offences in terms of on-pitch antics, dressing room celebrations or players breaking social distancing rules in their private life.

‘We cannot keep going round this loop of saying it’s a problem and it happens again,’ a Whitehall source told Sportsmail. ‘These things should not be happening.’

Dr Tang, a consultant virologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary and Associate Professor at the University of Leicester, said the way to tackle ‘celebratory scrums’, which are high risk for transmission, is to educate players and then impose a sanction, if only until most of the population is vaccinated.

‘If you have a scrum you have close contact for several seconds and that can transmit the virus.

Relieved Chelsea players got close during the FA Cup victory over Morecambe after a bad run

‘You go home and you can spread it among your own bubble that can include elderly friends and family, which could put them in hospital or cause their death.

‘So, why take the risk to yourself or your contacts from a single 10 or 20 second scrum. You don’t have to do it.

‘If it happens once you get a yellow card and if it happens again you are off.

‘It is a disincentive for that contact, recognising that it could have much bigger consequences.’

The FA, Premier League and EFL are reminding clubs of their responsibilities with respect to social distancing, including on the field and in the changing rooms after this weekend’s action.

Spurs’ players ran to youngster Alfie Devine when he scored at Marine in the FA Cup

Players routinely gathered to hug or embrace after goals – or penalty saves – in the FA Cup. And at Chorley and Crawley Town squads partied in the dressing room as they savoured their victories over higher league opposition in Derby County and Leeds United, respectively.

Ministers looked on aghast, concerned that the public mood will only tolerate so many images of footballers living by different rules to the rest of the population, while most people face a bleak, open-ended lock down with possibility of even stricter rules to come.

However, the sport’s governing bodies are yet to reveal any sanctions against clubs or players, who continue to breach social distancing.

Dr Tang said changes do not have to be open-ended, they just need to help football through this most difficult period, while the virus is spreading rapidly, and before the positive effects of the vaccine are felt.

Barnsley’s players celebrated in a huddle after scoring in their FA Cup win over Tranmere

‘If you are going to play then be more careful,’ said Dr Tang. ‘If the players understand the risk and support it the rules can change and everyone accepts it for six months.’

The Premier League has asked referees to speak to captains and coaches pre-match’ to avoid unnecessary contact’ and there are compliance officers at the stadiums observing.

The league does not believe the referees’ jurisdiction stretches to punishing players for non-compliance with social distancing.

However, Dr Tang suggested that the league is responsible for its own competition and it should empower referees to police distancing on the field for the sake of the players and their families.

Emile Smith Rowe scored in extra time against Newcastle United in Arsenal’s win

In the latest round of testing, the Premier League recorded 36 Covid cases among 2,593 tests, down four on the week before. In the EFL, 112 Covid cases were recorded out of 3,507 tests.

The scale of the problem confronting the UK was starkly illustrated again last night with another 529 Covid deaths recorded – marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on the same day last week.

But, in a glimmer of hope the UK’s soaring case load may be leveling out, 46,169 people tested positive for the virus – down 20 per cent in a week. 

Bristol City players celebrating during their win over Portsmoth in this weekend’s FA Cup

It will certainly take a lot to persuade players to think twice before traditional goal celebrations.

On Monday, Watford striker Troy Deeney claimed that footballers can’t stop breaking new Covid rules because it is in their ‘nature’ to hug their team-mates during goal celebrations, and he called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to shut down the sport.

‘Unless the government or governing bodies step in and say, ‘you cannot do this, you cannot do that’, then it goes back to what’s morally right,’ Deeney told talkSPORT .

Chorley players were among many to celebrate during FA Cup matches this weekend

‘You can’t stop people from going away [on holiday], you can’t stop people from playing football and naturally going to hug your team-mate who assisted you – it’s something we’ve done for years.

‘Ultimately, it’s up to the powers that be to shut football down, and it doesn’t matter if it carries on into June and July like last year, or we talk about it week after week as people make mistakes.’

And Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti insisted his players will continue to celebrate goals with each other until the Premier League orders them to stop.

Troy Deeney (left) has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) to shut down football

Ancelotti said his club were doing everything by the book and there was nothing to prevent his players enjoying scoring goals.

‘Honestly, there is no rule that says you are not allowed to celebrate,’ he said.

‘We are really strict to follow the rules that the Premier League have put in place, to follow the protocols, and if the Premier League say you don’t have to celebrate, you don’t have to hug, we’re not going to celebrate.’


Round 1: Aug 31-Sep 6 – 1,605 tested, with three testing positive.

Round 2: Sep 7-13 – 2,131 tested, with four testing positive.

Round 3: Sep 14-20- 1,574 tested, with three testing positive.

Round 4: Sep 21-27 – 1,595 tested, with 10 testing positive.

Round 5: Sep 28-Oct 4 – 1,587 tested, with nine testing positive.

Round 6: Oct 5-11 – 1,128 tested, with five testing positive.

Round 7: Oct 12-18 – 1,575 tested, with eight testing positive.

Round 8: Oct 19-25 – 1,609 tested, with two testing positive.

Round 9: Oct 26-Nov 1 – 1,446 tested, with four testing positive.

Round 10: Nov 2-8 – 1,646 tested, with four testing positive.

Round 11: Nov 9-15 – 1,207 tested, with 16 testing positive.

Round 12: Nov 16-22 – 1,530 tested, with eight testing positive.

Round 13: Nov 23-29 – 1,381 tested, with 10 testing positive.

Round 14: Nov 30-Dec 6 – 1,483 tested, with 14 testing positive.

Round 15: Dec 7-13 – 1,549 tested, with six testing positive.

Round 16: Dec 14-20 – 1,569 tested, with seven testing positive 

Round 17: Dec 21-27 – 1,479 tested, with 18 testing positive 

Round 18: Dec 28-Jan 3 – 2,295 tested, with 40 testing positive 

Round 19: Jan 4-Jan 10 – 2,593 tested, with 36 testing positive

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