The Premier League has warned its clubs that disciplinary action will be taken over breaches of coronavirus rules amid a sharp rise in cases, including 10 Aston Villa players being forced into isolation after testing positive.
The outbreak threatens Villa’s Premier League games next week but the team were planning to contest their FA Cup match against Liverpool on Friday using only youth players.
In games, players have become more lax and the league wants them to minimise contact.
Clubs were told in a letter from the league that handshakes, hugging and shirt-swapping should stop, in an attempt to limit the risk of COVID-19 spreading – particularly with a more transmissible variant of the disease now circulating in England.
The government has allowed professional sports to continue despite England being placed into its latest lockdown this week and some players being involved in high-profile flouting of national rules over Christmas with parties.
“It is vital to ensure public, government and stakeholder confidence in the training and matchday protocols that individual transgressions by relevant persons are appropriately investigated and sanctioned by clubs,” the league told clubs in a letter.
“Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action by the league individually against the relevant person, where appropriate (for example, where his or her conduct brings the league into disrepute) and/or against the club (where the relevant person’s conduct constitutes a breach of the training protocol).”
The league might investigate the circumstances of outbreaks within teams to discover the cause and assess if action has to be taken.
Compliances officers from the league can go into training grounds and dressing rooms on matchdays to check coronavirus protocols are being followed.
Clubs have also been told to limit interactions between players and coaches away from matches and training, including only using canteens on the day before games or on matchdays.
Anyone coming into contact with players on transport used to get to games will also have to test negative in advance for COVID-19.