A referees’ charity has called on the Football Association to enforce a rule that keeps players two metres away from officials on the pitch.
As football grapples with the Covid-19 crisis, players have already been warned not to celebrate in groups after scoring in order to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
But referees don’t seem to have been considered in any social distancing guidance with players continuing to crowd around them when awaiting or contesting a decision.
A referees’ charity has called on the FA to reinforce a two-metre social distancing rule between officials and players on the pitch. Here, Man United players crowd around Kevin Friend
Brighton players Robert Sanchez and Adam Webster follow ref Darren England to protest
Charity RefsupportUk made the call to the FA in response to sports minister Nigel Huddleston reminding players they are under scrutiny for their actions
But charity RefsupportUK said: ‘It would be brilliant if the FA also state that players should not intentionally be within 2 meters of a match official.
‘There is no reason whatsoever for a player to be intentionally that close to a match official.’
That came in response to a letter sent to all top-flight clubs by Premier League chief executive Richard Master designed to ‘stress the critical importance of adhering’ to strict Covid protocols.
Masters reminded clubs that ‘handshakes, high fives and hugs must be avoided.’
However, that didn’t stop Sheffield United players celebrating together in a group after scoring in their win over Newcastle United on Tuesday night.
Burnley players surround Kevin Friend as Harry Maguire (right) is booked on Tuesday night
Referee Andy Madley tries to break up a disagreement between Fabian Schar and David McGoldrick during Tuesday’s match between Sheffield United and Newcastle United
Fulham also celebrated their equalising goal against Tottenham on Wednesday night by hugging and High-fiving, one of many examples of normal goal celebrations continuing despite the restrictions.
On Wednesday, minister for sport Nigel Huddleston said: ‘Everyone in the country has had to change the way they interact with people and ways of working. Footballers are no exception.
‘Covid secure guidelines exist for football. Footballers must follow them and football authorities enforce them – strictly.’
The FA Cup third round weekend saw football at the eye of a storm of criticism after Chorley, Crawley Town and others celebrated their cup wins with parties in cramped dressing rooms.
Players have continued to celebrate in groups with hugs and high-fives, despite being warned not to by the Premier League amid virus fears
Manchester City players break Covid rules by hugging while celebrating against Brighton
Manchester United stars broke new Covid rules by celebrating as a group on Tuesday night
While Premier League chiefs expect the message about goal celebrations to filter through to players in the weeks ahead, there remains no hard and fast rules to protect officials.
In Wednesday night’s Manchester City versus Brighton game, referee Darren England was followed by Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez and defender Adam Webster as they protested a decision.
And there were several moments in Tuesday’s Burnley versus Manchester United game when official Kevin Friend was pursued by annoyed players.