Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of another national lockdown on Monday, the vastly different COVID-19 landscape is further highlighted.
Two weeks ago, we raised our concerns about player safety with The National League and the ensuing weeks with ever-increasing infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths have done nothing to reduce those fears.
Back in March there was no consideration of football continuing. September saw an improving position with lower infection rates and a more hopeful future. Now however, cases in Slough are increasing at an alarming rate and the current rate is 993 cases per 100,000 people in the latest week (25-31 December). This has doubled in two weeks with the onset of the new strain of the virus.
Whilst we can apply our protocols rigidly, encourage players to take care in their everyday lives and clean the facility rigorously, we now feel that this is insufficient to protect our players, staff and volunteers.
It is important to note that teams in The National League differ from those in the EFL; for one, many of our players and playing staff have jobs outside of their footballing roles and so their potential for exposure is higher. National League clubs are not tested to the current standards set by the EFL, and the costs are prohibitive to test to this standard for teams in our league.
Whilst much of the nation works from home, frontline key workers continue to fulfil their essential roles. Footballers, of course, cannot work from home. Now is the time once again where the footballing world must ask itself whether it can justify putting its people at risk. Is football essential?
We have a duty of care to our players and managers, and that responsibility sits with the clubs as employers and not with The National League, The FA or the Government.
We have in the last few weeks ramped up our protocols to the verge of obsessiveness, but we are feeling increasingly uncomfortable in asking our players to take what can only be seen as unnecessary risks. Our players have also expressed their concerns both for themselves and their families. Whilst the Government may say that there is no evidence to suggest that the virus spreads through football, there is no evidence to suggest that it does not. The stipulation that individuals only meet one other person outdoors counters that argument in our view.
In essence, we are asking The National League Board to consider whether it is morally right to expect clubs to keep playing given the position the country finds itself in.
We appreciate the commercial issues and the impact of disruption on the higher leagues. We will fulfil our fixtures but we will do so under duress. We are simply asking The National League to consider the bigger picture with regard to the risk to life and acknowledge that right now, the health and safety of the players and their families is more important than football.
To be clear, we are not asking for the season to end, but simply to be suspended temporarily so that all parties have time to reflect, plan but more importantly to put people first. We understand that cynics may argue that we are suggesting this because our position in the league is not where we would want it to be and that we are ‘playing for time’, but to those people we say this: Slough Town Football Club puts the safety of its players and staff above all things. This is not a revolutionary proposal - it would merely bring The National League in line with the rest of the country.
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