COVID-19 bodyguards to keep A-League stars safe
Every A-League club will have a dedicated "coronavirus officer" to enforce tough health and hygiene protocols when the A-League restarts, as new research reveals how vulnerable footballers can be to suffering a bad case of the virus if they catch it.
Drawing on guidelines from the Bundesliga and the K-League, the A-League's detailed checklist will be finalised this week after being approved by players and club doctors.
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Every player and all staff needed for games will be tested for the coronavirus before the teams return to training early next month, and clubs' HQ and training grounds will be locked down and any visitor screened before entry, including temperature checks.
So far only one player and one coach - at Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix respectively - have been recorded as testing positive for the illness, with both making a full recovery.
But the stringent measures are designed to avoid any more sending teams into isolation and disrupting the rapid-fire schedule planned to end the season.
It's also designed to reassure players who have privately expressed concern about restarting matches.
The guidelines draw on the protocols from Germany and Korea in particular as two leagues that have already restarted.
The K-League protocol includes such detail as warning players not to celebrate goals "excessively", telling substitutes to wear masks on the bench and creating "isolation" areas in stadiums for anyone taken ill.
When the teams line up in the tunnel before the game, players can only "give a slight nod to other players and the referees", and they have been told to line up facing each other on the pitch rather than shake hands.
The danger to players has been highlighted by research from scientists in Germany and Italy, that has sparked warnings to players about the particular issues that could arise in team-sport environments.
The research paper, prepared by a group of European immunologists, warns that the physical exertion involved in playing a sport such as football could effectively suck the virus deeper into the lungs.
Some research has indicated that the deeper the virus penetrates into the respiratory system, the greater the chance of increased suffering and longer-term problems.
"The pattern of breathing during strenuous exercise changes dramatically by a tremendous increase of ventilation," said the paper's authors, adding that professional athletes are "particularly exposed due to their frequent practice of extreme and long-lasting exercise."
Players who are initially asymptomatic may effectively "double down" on the infection, the paper warns.
"These droplets or aerosol might be re-inhaled and facilitate the spread of the virus from the upper to the lower airways," it says.
"In sports where many athletes are in close contact, such as team sports or marathons, the same particles have high chances to be inhaled by other athletes, facilitating viral transmission."
NSW TO HOST A-LEAGUE 'HUB'
NSW will host the A-League "hub" designed to finish the A-League season once all stakeholders sign off on the proposed 36-day crescendo to complete the campaign.
After considering options in Victoria and Queensland, A-League bosses are poised to complete a deal that would see games played at Jubilee Stadium, Bank West Stadium and possibly WIN Stadium in Wollongong.
Sydney FC, Western Sydney, Newcastle and the Mariners would all remain in their home bases under the plan while the interstate teams will be based at hotels around Sydney, with the intention of racing through 32 games in 36 days.
A handful of those could be played in Victoria, with the three local teams completing fixtures against each other before moving to NSW. Wellington Phoenix would have to serve a period in self-isolation before being cleared to play.
As The Daily Telegraph revealed yesterday, resumption of the competition would come on July 18 with the grand final pencilled in for August 22.
There is still the possibility that a hub concept may not be required, depending on the continued relaxation of restrictions designed to contain COVID-19.
But clubs are preparing for the single-base option, to play out a schedule that still requires the approval of broadcasters Fox Sports.
A separate pay deal with the players' union also has to be struck, though it's believed progress has been made on that front and a final agreement could be unveiled this week before players' contracts expire at midnight on Sunday.
More than 100 players are due to come off contract, but a three-month extension following FIFA guidelines is set to be agreed.
Originally published as COVID-19 bodyguards to keep A-League stars safe