As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage across Europe, is it right that football players are joining up with national teams?
As one of the most popular sources of entertainment, it’s natural that many would gravitate towards the return of professional football following its suspension as a result of Covid-19 as soon as possible. While some eyebrows were raised over the decision to eventually reintroduce the sport to our television screens as early as June, in the case of the Premier League, these concerns have only grown following the return of international football.
International football, where players jet off to join their national teams, has already resulted in consequences for those involved. In the case of Premier League champions, Liverpool, a period of international football at the end of September resulted in three players returning with the virus. The risk exists that players will compete for their countries whilst inadvertently catching the virus in the process, before returning to the locale of their domestic competition. Ideally, the players are in a position to self-isolate upon infection as to reduce the likelihood of infecting others, but, with symptoms potentially taking time to present, there is the distinct likelihood that players and staff will accidentally spread the virus before knowing they have it.
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers stated: “You know at least when they are at your club you have them in your bubble, and from our perspective that has been really, really good. But there’s no doubt it increases the risk when they travel and go outside of that bubble.” Rodgers’ statement highlights how monitoring players and as such better ensuring their wellbeing in the face of Covid-19 becomes more challenging as a result of international football. It begs the question: should international football should continue to operate in the current climate, given the potentially increased risk to people’s physical wellbeing?
On top of the health risks posed by travelling players potentially bringing the virus back to the country where they live, international football suffers as well. More and more players are being forced to isolate and miss upcoming matches for their country. As such, there is the risk that results become skewed and the integrity of international football is harmed. For example, the esteemed Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to take part in his country’s most recent UEFA Nations League match. While Portugal still defeated Sweden without their captain, the fact that teams are becoming disadvantaged in competitive matches as a result of the pandemic only adds to the concerns regarding whether or not continuing with international football really is the best option.
At the time of writing, international football does not seem likely to be postponed. However, as the health of players, staff and potentially their friends and families are put at greater risk, in addition to the risk that matches themselves may become unfairly affected, the choice to allow international football to continue in the current format is perhaps something that should be reconsidered.