Premier Leaguue: Restarting football is a battle between “money and health,” says the club’s former doctor

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The decision was met with enthusiasm by fans around the world, but for many there is a sense of trepidation.

The total number of coronavirus deaths in the UK now stands at 37,919, but the true death toll is believed to be much higher.

Shortly before the resumption of the season in the Premier League was confirmed, Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Adviser of the British government, told the daily coronavirus briefing that the number of new cases is around 8,000 per day.

“This isn’t a low number,” said Vallance.

Numerous high profile players, including Troy Deeney, Sergio Aguero and N’Golo Kante, have all expressed fears of returning to action when there is still so much uncertainty and so much about the virus that remains unknown.

Dr. Ralph Rogers, who worked in the Premier League, told CNN Sport that those players have cause for concern.

“I can imagine as a player, I would be very cautious about returning,” says Dr. Rogers. “Mainly because there is a lot of this coronavirus [we don’t know] and people are dying. I understand it perfectly.

“What we know about this virus is that we should do social distancing. You can’t even get into Waitrose [supermarket] without being six feet away, so if the football rules don’t change it might be a little premature, “added Dr. Rogers.

“The virus is indiscriminate, it will attack anyone.”

Despite the death toll still rising rapidly – new data show that the UK has the second highest death rate per million in the world – the Premier League, given the go-ahead according to government guidelines, continues to continue with plans for a temporary restart of the season next month.

But the league’s comeback is in line with a gradual reopening for the rest of the UK economy; Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced earlier this week that all nonessential stores would reopen in mid-June.

Dr. Rogers says it’s a “money versus health” case – and it looks like money is currently winning.

“It’s bigger than just football,” says Dr. Rogers. “We have to follow the virus. This is what it is about. The virus will dictate what we do in society and, unless they change the rules of football, they don’t face, they don’t direct the ball together … it’s a contact with sport and people get very close.

“So there is a great possibility, a great opportunity for this virus to spread through football and if it weren’t for the amount of money in football, I don’t know we would have had this conversation, which is, I think, really the underlying problem. of all this.

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“We all want football because it’s so interesting for society. It’s beautiful, it’s that little layer of how we live, it’s entertainment. But at what cost?”

The Premier League was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNN.

Just over a week ago, Deeney estimated that “65% to 75%” of the players were worried about the ongoing contact training and that the number was “even higher” for those who thought that the season would not be recovered.

Captain Watford has opted publicly not to return to the first phase of training, a decision for which he received abuse – “I hope your son gets the coronavirus,” one person told him – but he will return for the second phase.

Deeney says that improving communication with the Premier League was a factor, but also adds an element of resignation that players could no longer prevent the league from restarting.

“I really think many players have come to the conclusion that it’s happening,” he told CNN. ‘There is [a sense of]: “We can’t stop it.”

“In the end, everyone knows what’s going on, the season is about to end and you control the controllable, that’s what we had to do.”

Fears for BAME players

Official data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published in early May showed that black people in England and Wales are more than four times more likely to die from coronavirus versus whites.

Even when socioeconomic factors are removed, statistics have found that they were still almost twice as likely to die from Covid-19. The reasons why they remain unclear.

When it was first announced that the Premier League clubs would return to training, Deeney was one of several black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) players who expressed concern about these statistics, leading the Professional Footballers’ Association ( PFA) to ask the Premier League to conduct further research on the numbers.

“It is a good thing to recognize that there is a greater risk in BAME groups,” said Dr. Premier League Chief Medical Advisor Mark Gillett in a recent briefing.

“To mitigate the fact that the risk in fit athletes for young people is still very, very small and I think it’s an important factor. I go back to the fact that we are trying to create the safest working environment possible for these people. .

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“I am happy to have mitigated all the risks that we can understand at this point and therefore when more information is available we will obviously do everything possible to mitigate that too. Certainly we will move with it in real time more information becomes available.”

Deeney is also complicit in how the Premier League has dealt with his concerns since the first time he spoke.

Captain Watford claims to have had “four or five” meetings with the league and also spoke to Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy medical director of the British government, who alleviated some of his fears.

Deeney says he is aware that as a professional footballer, even one of BAME origin, the risk of suffering from serious health problems due to Covid-19 is very low.

However, it is the risk of passing it on to friends and relatives that worries him the most; Deeney has a five-month-old son who was born prematurely and has breathing difficulties.

“When I talk about black players, it’s not necessarily me, it’s if we go home to moms, dads,” he says. “We have a player on our team who lives both with his parents and with his grandparents who live with him, and he belongs to him [minority] ethnicity.

“So not only is he at risk, but then, going home, he’s definitely putting people in the highest risk category [in danger]”.

After talking at length with the Premier League and Van-Tam, Deeney says that some of Covid-19’s biggest health impacts are due to cultural behavior towards the disease.

“Black people don’t go to doctors so much,” he explains. “We will wait until the last minute, we will have symptoms but we will not necessarily go directly to the doctors, we will try to wait a little.

“Even economically, depending on where you come from and the areas where you live, this can affect everyone but, in the end, they will say for the players that we don’t fall into those categories.

“But it’s also the bigger picture of our families and that’s more important to me than a few pocket notes.”

The cost of the coronavirus

The pandemic could end up costing the United Kingdom up to £ 298 billion [$368B] for the current year, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Despite its million-dollar salaries, transfer fees and billion-dollar broadcast transactions, the football industry has also been severely affected by the financial impact of coronavirus.

A a stakeholder meeting earlier this month, top-tier clubs across Europe have estimated they can lose up to £ 6.2 billion [$7.7B] if the current season cannot be completed.

Dr Rogers claims to have talked privately with fellow medical professionals and many agree that football is desperately trying to restart the current campaign.

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“Same things I’m saying, it’s just about money,” he says. “I don’t want to put it that easily, but people want this thing to be open, you know, it’s a business. My colleagues, the guys I know in the field of sports medicine, are basically saying that we have to take care of the health of the players. .

“One of the jobs I do is in urgent care and I remember the first weeks of work that I was afraid, I’m not afraid to say that I was scared. I can’t say I’m less scared but I try to get it back in my head now and go on with my work, but that’s serious.

“This is a very serious virus and people who are not in the medical field are definitely afraid. This is football, it is a game. I realize that it is a business but in the end, it is a game and there are many other important things. Football – I hate to say it even though I’m a football fan, but people are dying here. “

An independent study published last year by Ernst and Young revealed that the Premier League and its clubs contributed £ 3.3 billion [$4B] in taxes and added £ 7.6 [$9.3B] billion to the UK’s gross domestic product in the 2016/17 season.

Nearly 100,000 jobs in the UK are supported by the League and almost all of them will have been affected by the economic impact of the pandemic, but it was not the high paid players or coaches who were most affected.

“Think of the guys who clean the stalls, think of the people who sell hot dogs, there is only a little fun about why football is so important in this economy and you start to see how important it is,” says Rogers.

“It’s a business so they want to take it back but, once again, I fully understand the concerns of the players. There will be opportunities for people to compete against each other for close contact and there is the possibility for people to transmit this virus. “

Despite continuing concerns about player safety, the Premier League will return on June 17th – and a look at the German Bundesliga, which is now in its third round of matches since the return, will provide hope that it can be done safely.


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