Jonas Eidevall, head coach of Arsenal Women, the team currently running the Barclays FA Women’s Super League, believes there is no transparency on why games are being called off in England in the short term with clubs claiming they cannot play due to the number of positive Covid tests among their first team.
With the Omicron variant of Covid-19 now predominant in the UK, a spike in positive tests has resulted in the postponement of a series of men’s and women’s football matches before and after Christmas. This week, the Football Association (FA) relaunched its publication of the number of positive tests recorded in women’s football. Between December 28, 2021 and January 3, 2022, there were 40 positive tests among the 24 teams making up the FA Women’s Super League and the FA Women’s Championship.
Arsenal’s closest challengers, defending league champions Chelsea Women, on Wednesday successfully requested the cancellation of a second game in a row. In a statement, they said they were unable to play tonight’s scheduled match against Tottenham Hotspur because “a number of positive tests for Covid-19 were returned in the setup of the women’s squad of the Chelsea FC after the final round of testing, combined with a number of the players unavailable for selection due to injury “without specifying which were absent for what reason.
Already without three of her squad who are in Australia to prepare for their country’s participation in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup later this month, and Leah Williamson and Tobin Heath recovering from long-term injuries, Eidevall therefore declined to reveal which of his other players were and were not available for Sunday’s league meeting in Birmingham City saying “I am not going to share anything”.
Eidevall was not ready to use injuries or positive Covid tests to call off the game. “Apart from the Asian Cup players, we also have unavailable players, but we want to play soccer matches. I’m very proud to play matches and I think every team has injuries or maybe a disease. Obviously, right now there is very little transparency about that. “
Arsenal’s last game before Christmas at home against Brighton and Hove Albion was postponed the day before the game and Eidevall received no explanation other than the official statement “the decision has been made by the FA following Covid issues in Classes”.
Eidevall told me “when we wanted to play Brighton before Christmas I still don’t know why the game was not activated. Nobody tells you which players are available or not available. You only have a message from The FA that the game will be postponed so I’m not going to share anything. “
Since the postponement, Brighton have signed two Swedish internationals in the transfer window, both of whom will be eligible to play in the rescheduled game against Arsenal. When asked if he thinks some teams in the league are taking advantage of the situation, Eidevall replied, “I don’t know, because there is no transparency in the decision-making process. I find it very strange that you can’t play games. You have great teams, you have young players in the academy who are probably training with the first team and could come and play. For me, a football match should take place. it’s programmed. I think it should be in extreme conditions that you don’t play a soccer game. “
“Look at it this way, if you can prevent player injury, that’s really, really important. It’s also important to make sure the players aren’t sick. You can have a lot of different protocols in place. for that. You can be really consistent with your testing, with your social distancing, you have digital meetings instead of physical meetings etc. of spreading the Covid. “
“So you have a team that does that, you avoid having a multitude of cases, so you have enough players to play. Then you have another team, which has no control over the environment. could train in a way where they have five injured players with muscle injuries and then they don’t have any social distancing in meetings so they also spread to Covid. Then they say “we want to postpone games because that we don’t have any players available to play. “Now we are postponing this game until another transfer window opens.”
“Taking our game against Brighton as an example, we are ready to play, we are doing everything in our power to be ready to play this game. Now we are postponing it into a period where we are losing four players against the Cup. ‘Asia, in a transfer window where they will register new players to be able to play in this game who weren’t eligible to play in the other game. Is that fair? Why would a club be punished if they are ready to play? “
Brighton is believed to have been unable to complete the game against Arsenal as a number of players were self-isolating after being seen as “close contact” from someone who tested positive for Covid. Eidevall said “it’s pretty easy to see if you have a club where you don’t have doubly vaccinated players that those players would be considered close contact if you have a positive Covid case. That would mean you would have a lot of players. unavailable to play on weekends. You have another club that has all of their players doubly vaccinated so even if you have a positive case they would not be considered close contact in this case. I always ask which club should be punished for it? “
“I understand that there might be situations where the pandemic is so extreme that you just can’t play the game. There, I think, you have to be really transparent about it. I’m not a big fan of it. postponement of football matches, I am a strong supporter of playing matches when they are due. “
“It’s part of the game, getting your players ready to play. It’s not new news with Covid. When it first happened, of course, no one could say you could accommodate it. (However) whoever comes into this season and in planning your squad, everyone has to understand that it was a big risk that there would be a lot of Covid during the winter months. “
The current league season is scheduled to end on Sunday 8 May, with the UEFA Women’s Euro starting in July, meaning any possibility of extending the season is limited. Eidevall continued, “I just hope the decision-making process – they can stick with that for the whole season. Nobody knows where that will take us in January, February, March – the games have to be played, the end of the season will come at some point. What if the team hasn’t been able to play all the games by then? Are you going to have the same decisions in May, regarding the situations you have now in January when you have a lot of time to program these games? “