COVID-19 Doesn’t Discriminate, Even in Football
Since March 2020, the football world has been grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Matches, leagues and tournaments, domestic, national and international, have halted around the globe. And, any restarts have been under strict health and safety measures in quiet, spectator free stadiums. Players getting back on the pitch, managers and other staff have been required to operate within 'bubbles' to try to prevent coronavirus infections or its spread to anyone else. However, despite all of the precautions, the man at the top, FIFA President Gianni Infantino, has contracted the illness. Indeed, FIFA recently confirmed that he is the latest well-known football figure to fall foul of the virus.
Testing positive for the virus on October 27th, Infantino will self-isolate for ten days. The fifty-year-old is reportedly doing well and has only mild symptoms. Anyone in close contact with the Swiss in the last few days has also been requested to self-isolate. His last public appearance was at FIFA's Compliance Summit on October 16th when all attendees were present via video conferencing.
Interestingly, Switzerland, where FIFA's headquarters are based, has seen an exponential rise in coronavirus cases throughout October. The country's spike has seen an increase in daily cases, from 411 to over 3,000, throughout the month. The highest daily level of cases during the first wave of the virus was only 1,774. Most other European countries are also battling a severe spike in cases.
Virus Cases on the Football Scene
Infantino is far from the first prominent footballing figure to contract COVID-19. Despite taking every precaution possible, and mainly due to off the field factors, numerous players, managers, federation and club presidents and owners, have still tested positive since the start of the pandemic.
At Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), at least seven first-team players, including Neymar, Zlatan Idrahimović, Ángel Di María, Marquinhos and Kylian Mbappé, tested positive for the virus early in September. The players then faced the prospect of missing PSG's start to the 2020/21 season and, for Mbappé, national team games.
Similarly, the entire squad of the Italian football club, Juventus, was recently put under quarantine after positive tests amongst players, namely Weston McKennie. It is not the first time the team has recorded player infections this year, Juventus players Blaise Matuidi, Daniele Rugani and Paulo Dybala were diagnosed with coronavirus in March, and in mid-October fellow teammate Ronaldo tested positive for the illness. For Ronaldo, who tested positive again on October 27th, his hopes of taking on Lionel Messi and Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League on the 28th were dashed. He will also miss out on international duty with Portugal.
Other high profile players to contract the disease include Chelsea ace Callum Hudson-Odoi, who was, in March, the first English Premier League player to test positive. Paul Pogba, French National Team and Manchester United player, who tested positive in August. And, David Silva, Real Sociedad player, who also tested positive in August.
Players affected by the virus have had to miss matches, and even when they do return their match fitness is lacking due to a lack of essential training - impacting on the whole squad. Across the world, clubs have had to temporarily shut down, isolate players and staff, cancel matches, and replace players due to cases of the virus in and around teams. In the case of the AFC Champions League (west region) held in Qatar, the Saudi Al-Hilal Club were disqualified from the tournament when they couldn't secure a squad comprising 13 players, as required by the federation regulations, for their match against Dubai's Shabab Al-Ahli Club. Due to the spread of the infection among the Al Hilal players and staff, the squad only included eight players and three goalkeepers. Thus, the federation cancelled the game, disregarded the results of the team's previous games, and disqualified it from the competition.
And, it hasn't just been the players who have unfortunately contracted the virus, managers, coaches, staff and club owners haven't been immune either. Brazil's Flamengo's manager, Jorge Jesus, and England's Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta, both tested positive in March. Ex-footballer, manager and Liverpool director, Sir Kenny Dalglish tested positive in April. And, England's West Ham manager, David Moyes, tested positive in early October. Both the Swiss and Japanese Football Association presidents contracted the disease this year, as did Olympiakos and Nottingham Forest owner, Evangelos Marinakis.
So it seems, as coronavirus rampages around the world, no one is immune. For the football industry, ensuring pitch action continues will require controlling the virus spread off of the pitch as well as at training grounds and inside stadiums.
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