EFL Chief Executive, Trevor Birch, has reinforced the importance of the protocols issued to the League's member Clubs as the collective effort against coronavirus continues.
Speaking to Mark Clemmit on the latest episode of the Official EFL Podcast, Birch discussed the need for Clubs and players to adhere to the guidelines set out by the League as football continues to operate on a behind-closed-doors basis, saying he "cannot stress enough" their importance to the nation's response.
Enhanced protocols, first introduced following the outbreak of coronavirus last year, are now supported by a twice-weekly testing programme to mitigate against the risks posed, with players asked to adapt their approach on the pitch - particularly when it comes to goal celebrations - in consideration of the spread of infection and the impact it is having in the wider community.
"We’ve been very strong in enforcing, or telling Clubs to enforce, the protocols," he said. "That’s what will keep people safe. We’ve got a big role to play in terms of adhering to those protocols.
“The last thing we want is a curtailment. They’re all suffering enough at the moment financially, but another closure for any period which then creates a whole new raft of financial issues for the Clubs in terms of potentially broken broadcast contracts, that’s the sword that’s hanging over us.
“It’s a tough sell to the players because I think we all have sympathy; we’ve all played the game and know what the emotions are when you are on the pitch. All we can say is that we are in unprecedented times, we do need to try to restrict those to the bare minimum and it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to live by these rules.
“For the greater good of the game, we all have to comply. That’s the message."
The emergence of a new strain of COVID-19 in the UK has changed the landscape in recent weeks, further highlighting the significance of both matchday and non-matchday COVID protocols, which continue to be led and supported by medical advice, with the wellbeing and safety of all participants of paramount importance.
“We were all hoping in that interim period that we were moving out of it and we were trying to get a limited number of fans back to show that stadiums are a safe environment, and I think they still are, in terms of being an outdoor space," Birch added.
"We were lulled into a bit of a false sense that everything was turning the corner and the new strain has changed all of that. I think we are very firmly back in first lockdown territory in terms of the way we think about going about the job; that’s why we, the Premier League and FA have reinforced these protocols, because we need to be jolted back into that way of working.
"It’s stopping people going indoors, or restricting it in training grounds, and trying to keep the number of people that attend those grounds to a limited few that have all been tested. Of course, we are grateful to the PFA who have stepped up to the plate in terms of helping us with the funding for these lateral flow tests that we’re introducing on a twice-weekly basis."
The importance of adhering to the guidance is a message echoed by EFL Medical Advisor, Dr. Subhashis Basu, who says examples of club-wide engagement since early 2020 have been very successful to date.
"My aim has very much been to act as a support, to be impartial, to talk and to listen to club doctors when they want to discuss any difficulties that they’re facing, whether that’s related to understanding policies and protocols, active case management and so on," he said.
“Speaking to the Clubs, the main difficulty which the doctors who I spend most time speaking to have found is trying to get wider engagement within the club, trying to communicate what they would like to happen in the club to ensure that players, staff and all relevant people work towards adhering to the protocols.
"Where that has occurred, it’s been very successful, and we know that many Clubs have been able to mitigate risks associated with COVID-19 very successfully and continue to do so."
Listen to the latest episode of the Official EFL Podcast here.