PREMIER League clubs will now have to show proof of four positive tests in their squads in order to have a fixture postponed, following a Covid summit today.
Sportsmail revealed on Monday that the top flight was considering a significant shift in the cancellation criteria brought in to deal with the pandemic.
A move away from ‘available players’ to ‘active Covid cases’ will come in from the next round of fixtures, following input from Public Health England, it can be disclosed.
The north London derby was called of when Arsenal had just one Covid case in their squad
No objections to the shift were made at the meeting and the new criteria will apply when clubs return to action next month.
Previously, sides who wanted a match called off had to show they did not have 13 available players plus a goalkeeper, with injuries and absence on international duty taken into account. That led to 22 postponements and acrimony between clubs, which intensified after it emerged Arsenal managed to get the north London derby postponed despite having only one confirmed positive case.
Mandatory Covid pass checks on fans at stadia are also being removed.
Now, the minimum threshold to request a match being called off is proof of four positive tests within their playing squad.
Burnley are facing an enormous back log of fixtures after having so many games called off
The top divisions in Germany, Spain, Italy and France have seen relatively few postponements
Under the new guidance, four Covid cases would not trigger an automatic cancellation.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters, stung by criticism and the outbreak of hostility among top-flight sides, was moved to take action. He called around clubs and managed to lobby significant support, with as many as 18 voicing their backing.
Rather than a rule change, the shift will take the form of guidance, amid a threat of legal action should the league be seen to be moving the goalposts midway through the season. As such, no vote was necessary.
As reported by Sportsmail last week, to change the rules mid-season could have had severe legal consequences.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has stung by criticism of postponements
Burnley’s match against Watford was one of 22 Covid-related postponements this season
Leading football QC Nick De Marco, who recently represented Newcastle in an arbitration case against the Premier League, said such a change could establish legal grounds to challenge the Premier League on the basis of inconsistency and unfairness.
‘One club have the match postponed but the second club don’t and then lose, which might lead to relegation, being outside the top six or finishing one place lower than another club, which in itself is worth a couple of million pounds,’ De Marco said. ‘You can see why that would lead to legal challenges because of inconsistent treatment.
‘The most likely challenge would be that the decision of the Premier League board was unreasonable, whether it was the rule change itself or if did not allow a cancellation in the same circumstances. Unreasonableness is one of the points of challenge under the Premier League rules.’
Mid season rule changes can leave Premier League at risk of a legal challenge, says one lawyer
There is hope that the number of postponements will reduce anyway with Covid cases falling rapidly and players returning from the Afcon.
There were 16 new positive Covid cases in the Premier League last week, the fourth week in a row that the number of positive results has decreased, and the lowest number of positives in a week since December 5.
The Afcon has almost concluded the Round of 16 stage, so players are beginning to return to their clubs. The final is due to take place on Sunday February 6.
The next round of Premier League fixtures begins on Saturday February 5, when Burnley host Watford, with most taking place on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the following week.
In comparison to the Premier League, the top divisions in Germany, Spain, Italy and France have seen relatively few postponements.
In the Bundesliga and La Liga there have been no games called off. While in Ligue 1 three games have been postponed and Serie A has lost four.
Premier League has said postponements will continue to be judged on a case-by-case basis
In a statement, the Premier League said: ‘Following a club meeting today, the Premier League’s COVID-19 match postponement guidance has been updated to include a COVID-19 impact threshold.
‘From now on, if a club applies to postpone a match on the grounds of insufficient players due to COVID-19, they must have a minimum of four positive cases within their squad. This guidance will come into effect ahead of the next Premier League fixture on Saturday 5 February (Burnley FC v Watford FC).
‘Throughout the pandemic, the Premier League has adapted its guidance in response to the wider public health situation. The guidance was last updated in December in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.
‘The League’s postponement rules and guidance are designed to protect the wellbeing of players and staff, while maintaining the sporting integrity of the competition and the quality of squads playing League matches. Club applications will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
‘The Premier League Board examines a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of COVID-19; and the ability of the players to safely prepare for and play the match. The detail within all applications is scrutinised by the League’s specialist staff before the Board makes its decision.’
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