Premier League clubs must prove at least four positive coronavirus cases within their squad before attempting to delay a fixture, it has been announced, as laws on Covid postponements were tightened.
Twenty-two top-flight fixtures have been postponed since mid-December as the Omicron variant has spread but there have been suggestions that clubs have been gaming the rules to call off matches for reasons beyond the pandemic.
Previous regulations mandated that a postponement could occur if clubs had fewer than 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper available, for whatever reason. Clubs have sought to tighten that loophole, by agreeing on guidance that four positive tests must be recorded. The changes will come into immediate effect, applicable from Burnley’s match against Watford on 5 February.
That the change is in guidance form means it is not enforceable under the Premier League rulebook. The league’s board, which takes the decisions, is unlikely to ignore the new direction however.
Some clubs played matches this winter despite Covid outbreaks because they had the requisite number of players. Arsenal provoked criticism from Spurs after the north London derby was called off with one confirmed positive case in the Gunners’ squad.
The league also confirmed it would be scrapping with immediate effect the requirement for fans to show a negative test – or proof of vaccination – to enter a stadium. This follows the government’s decision to end ‘Plan B’ Covid restrictions on movement.
Covid-19 emergency measures in place at training grounds – which cover testing, treatment time, the wearing of face coverings and the observance of social distancing – are to be reviewed weekly with a view to their expiring no later than 28 February.