Former England international Emile Heskey is calling for extra precautions to be taken with BAME players.
While the overwhelming feeling among footballers towards the Premier League’s return on June 17 will be happiness, ex-England, Liverpool and Leicester striker Heskey believes all footballers will still feel nervous about going back to competition.
And given how coronavirus has disproportionately affected those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, Heskey says these players have even more reason to feel worried.
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“Every player will be nervous with what’s going on and people dying,” he said. “I know friends who have had family members pass away so they’ll be worried and extra cautious.
“It should be the norm that if I’m more susceptible to something that you focus a little bit more on me than you and just keep an eye on me.
“I’m guessing the players have had some reassurance from the clubs, the FA, the Premier League and from the government as well that they are doing their utmost to look into it and to really give some insight into why it’s happening and what they can do to help mitigate that.”
He added: “It’s important to remember that they are human beings. They do have families, parents, kids, brothers, sisters and no one wants to see them being pushed into a place where they don’t feel comfortable.”
Earlier this week, Sky News revealed the NHS is using a risk assessment tool and scoring chart for employers to use on their Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
Heskey, who has 62 England caps and whose autobiography ‘Even Heskey Scored’ is in the running for the Daily Telegraph Sports Book for the Year, says he personally would have been happier to isolate with the rest of his team for the remainder of the season.
“I thought that was the remit and it makes sense that you could isolate in a hotel or at some training grounds,” he said.
“You could all isolate in one place and at the end of the season go back to your families knowing you’ve been tested and everything is fine.”
“Tough ask to keep fans away”
There is also the question of where certain matches will be played.
With the Merseyside derby taking place on the first weekend of the restart and Liverpool fans so close to seeing their side win the league for the first time in three decades, Heskey says it will be a headache for authorities wherever they decide to play it.
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“It’s going to be a tough ask for any stadium and police and security to keep fans away,” he said.
“I think that’s why they are talking about playing it at a neutral venue. You’ve got fans who will travel to Anfield if it’s played there just to be in the vicinity of the stadium.
“It could be played at Wembley down in London but you’d get Liverpool fans there as well – it’s a tough one to police to be honest with you.”
With all matches happening behind closed doors, he feels sorry for not just Liverpool fans who may feel cheated of their big moment when the Premier League title is won, but fans everywhere and the players.
He said: “It’s why they do it. They go out to entertain to give that love back to fans and they’re not going to be able to do that.”
Agbonlahor: I’ve never felt so ill
Heskey’s former Aston Villa team-mate Gabriel Agbonlahor told Sky Sports News he “never felt so ill” in his entire life after contracting coronavirus.
The Villa academy graduate was struck down with Covid-19 symptoms for 10 days in March, but he has now made a full recovery.
“I caught the virus on March 15, and I’ve never felt so ill in my entire life,” Agbonlahor told Sky Sports.
“The symptoms I had, they were terrible, so if I was a player and I was speaking to the players, I wouldn’t want them to go through what I went through as it was a horrible experience and the virus is very deadly as we’ve seen.
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