David Freezer: Football needs to return but players must be allowed to stay home if worries remain
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We all have different reasons for how we’ve changed our behaviour because of the coronavirus pandemic and footballers are no different, during these most uncertain of times.
I’ve lived within 30 minutes of Norwich for most of my life - other than a five-year stint up north - and it’s closing on 10 weeks since I’ve been any closer to the city centre than Mousehold Heath.
Yet many of us are now tentatively starting to look forward, to how we can start taking steps back towards some form of normality amid the pandemic, while acknowledging that social distancing and increased hygiene regimes will become important parts of our lives until someone cracks the coronavirus vaccine code.
We can be under no illusions about the impact this pandemic has had on our planet; we will be talking about Covid-19 for many years to come. A time will come when we will mourn for the many that this virus has taken from us, globally that’s over 326,000 so far according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Yet those of us fortunate to have avoided, or recovered from, the virus will all eventually need to turn attentions to getting back to normal as much as possible. Life must go on.
Football almost offers a reflection of wider society on a smaller scale at the moment. Everyone in the game is worried about the health risks but knows the longer the suspension continues, the more the risks grow of financial crisis.
The Premier League will reportedly owe as much as £340million in rebates to broadcasters even if the season is able to resume behind closed doors but in front of TV cameras next month. That’s before you consider potential rebates to supporters and sponsors.
As we already know, Norwich City are budgeting for a loss of expected income of between £18m and £35m - and the Canaries also have the added income blow of relegation hanging over them.
Extrapolate that down the pyramid and the financial crisis at the top of the game will clearly have a knock-on effect to clubs at lower levels if there is less money in the game all of a sudden. It’s the football circle of life.
If the transfer market contracts, wages nosedive and several clubs are plunged into financial crisis, there will be human consequences. Players will lose livelihoods, they may not be able to pay their mortgages, they may have a family to provide for.
Football is not just a game. It is a multi-billion-pound business worth vast amounts to taxpayers.
Yet during these exceptional times, if football as an industry does have to return to avoid such disaster, clubs must also accept that there will be some players and staff within the game who feel the risk is too great for them.
As someone with a brother on immunosuppressed medication, who I may not be able to see for quite some time yet, I was really pleased to read reports that Chelsea were giving midfielder N’Golo Kante their full support after he decided to stay away from training this week because of health concerns.
There are many reasons why me, you or any football player may have personal reasons for wanting to be extra vigilant about social distancing in the months or years to come, but I’m confident that the vast majority of Canaries fans would back any player who felt they had to take a stand, just as most fans at all other clubs would.
Watford captain Troy Deeney has also spoken admirably about why he is yet to return to training, with his young son’s respiratory issues being among his very valid concerns.
The season must be salvaged and many players seem keen to resume but football clubs and governing bodies must also accept that to get the game back and to avert much of that impending crisis, some people within football may not be able to come along for the weird ride.
It’s not ideal, but nothing in our current situation is, around the globe. We all just have to try to make the best of the situation, to behave as responsibly as possible and to be kind to each other.
If Norwich restarted this season and were relegated without three or four of their players for very valid health concerns for themselves or loved ones, would you hold it against them? Because I certainly wouldn’t.
It may well be that the government and football authorities reach the point of it being ‘legally safe’ to play, which would put players potentially at risk of not fulfilling their contracts, but I hope clubs will not forget that this immensely frustrating situation cannot be settled in ideal circumstances.
Stay safe, folks.
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