Celtic boss Neil Lennon alert to BAME players’ coronavirus concerns

Manager well aware that ethnic minorities will be more vulnerable when training returns

Celtic players will return to training on Thursday under controlled conditions.  Picture: SNS
Celtic players will return to training on Thursday under controlled conditions. Picture: SNS

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has acknowledged that careful consideration must be given to black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) players when training resumes for Scottish clubs on Thursday.

A report has stated that ethnic minorities are “disproportionately” affected by coronavirus. Celtic have more players of colour – eight – than any other team in the country and Lennon is aware of the responsibility this brings.

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“Of course it seems BAME are a little bit more vulnerable. We have protocols and everything in place. We’re trying to reassure all the players of the safety at the training ground and the environment,” he said.

“We have plans in place at the weekend for testing and all the medical processes we need to go through in terms of the hedging around the training ground and obviously what they’re required to do. The players are going to have to be really disciplined over the next few weeks.

“We’ll have the medical team in position on Saturday and Monday to talk to the players individually. There will be rigorous testing on them, not just for the coronavirus but other aspects of their physical health and well-being.”

It will take time to assess the impact on footballers from the BAME community, according to one legal expert. Safwan Afridi, an employment lawyer with London firm RadcliffesLeBrasseur with a particular focus on sport, believes any increase in the number of infections subsequent to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions could place BAME footballers in a difficult predicament, and certainly provide cause for them to consider their positions.

That has happened in England, where players at top-flight clubs are preparing for resumption of the Premier League season, on 17 June. The return has met with resistance from a number of black players. Watford’s Troy Deeney, pictured inset, has not yet returned to training since football’s shutdown in March, having initially expressed fears over doing so related to his five-month-old son having experienced breathing problems. Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante only agreed to attend the club’s training centre at Cobham last week, and is believed only to be undertaking individual sessions. Afridi considers that contractually, the concerns of footballers, and especially BAME players, cannot simply be dismissed.

“Ordinarily, an employment contract is a straightforward agreement,” he said. “Players are paid x/y/z, and in return they must play games and report for training. There are only exceptional reasons that allow for not fulfilling these obligations. Principal among those is a belief that there is a serious and imminent threat to themselves or those around them, should they do so.

“Covid-19 can be considered a reason why those with any underlying health conditions or from the BAME community could legitimately believe that their safety is compromised. It is up to the clubs to ensure they afford them the necessary protections with their testing regimes.

“Troy Deeney has questioned this from a family perspective while it hasn’t been quite as open as to why Kante at first did not want to return to football. An individual’s own safety provides sufficient grounds for making decisions about their employment.

“We are really only going to be able to get a better understanding of this area in the next month or so. If more tests begin to come back positive, then this could present problems for the football authorities. Alternatively, if there is an absence of positive cases then the serious and imminent threat circumstances could then change the position of any cautious players.”

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