Elite athletes must be given the ability to opt out of a return to contact training, according to new advice from the government that paves the way for the return of the Premier League.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has published the second stage of its “return to training” guidance for elite athletes – the Covid-19 guidelines all sports must follow if they aim to return to competition behind closed doors, should circumstances allow, after 1 June.
Watford’s Troy Deeney and N’Golo Kanté of Chelsea are two high-profile footballers who have already opted out of training, even in the non-contact stage. Both did so with the support of their club coaches – but organisations such as the international football players’ union, Fifpro, have expressed concern that athletes could be pressured into training against their wills.
The new guidance addresses those concerns, stating: “All athletes and staff should be clear on their route to ‘opt out’ of the stage-two training environment at any time, without any resulting discrimination not associated with the potential natural competitive impact resulting from any loss of training time.”
The seven-page document contains eight broad points of guidance. Points 2-4 relate to the necessity of risk assessment at a training ground, the development of a strategy to minimise those risks and the process of communicating that strategy to athletes and staff. Points 5-8 deal with the response to possible infection; from monitoring testing levels “to mitigate the increased risks that come with close contact training”, to the application of quarantine rules and notification of contact tracing services in the event of a positive test.
The final section of the document advises on insurance liability, another area of concern among athletes and medical staff. The guidance reads: “Hosts/operators of venues being used for stage two return to training should take active steps to ensure that close-contact training, coaching and support within their facility does not invalidate their relevant insurance.”
The guidance was devised by a working group that included DCMS, public health officials and medical staff from across elite sports. The Premier League’s medical adviser, Dr Mark Gillett, was part of the group and it is now expected that the league will put its own stage-two guidelines to clubs for their potential approval at a shareholders’ meeting on Tuesday.