Hibs chief executive Ben Kensell shares his frustrations over SPFL rush to reschedule games

Dealing with a situation that has seen Covid-19 rip through Hibs’ football department “like wildfire”, club chief executive Ben Kensell has warned that everyone needs to be “incredibly vigilant” in a bid to minimise future disruption to the fixture calendar.

After a few days of what he described as “fraught exchanges” between the Leith club and the SPFL, regarding the rescheduling of fixtures and the ability of the Covid-ridden club to field a team, the governing body finally accepted evidence from the club and corroborating guidance from NHS Lothian, and postponed last night’s rearranged league match with Ross County and this Saturday’s fixture against Livingston.

Yesterday, the Leith supremo explained why that was necessary and hit back at suggestions that they could and should have been forced to play the games or forfeit the points.

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“We are dealing with a squad that has been decimated,” he stated.

Hibs chief executive Ben Kensell has explained the challenges the club have faced while working to contain their Covid outbreak. Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group

Revealing that he had shut the training centre in a bid to contain the spread, he said eight first-team players had returned positive tests, along with a further seven in the development squad, adding that three members of staff had also contracted the virus, and another four players were self-isolating after being deemed close contacts.

Rules stipulate that clubs must have a matchday squad of 13 players (including a goalkeeper) and that a minimum of 10 of them must be aged 18 or over. But factoring in Hibs’ injury list, the club were unable to come up with more than eight players over the age of 18, which accounts for the difference in the way this outbreak has been treated by the SPFL, compared to Celtic in January.

Back then, Celtic were still able to piece together a team despite Christopher Jullien testing positive and 13 of his club-mates, manager Neil Lennon and assistant John Kennedy having to self-isolate.

Although content that they had found the right outcome eventually, Kensell said there were differences of opinion over the handling of the situation, with the Hibs chief executive adamant that Saturday’s postponed fixture should never have been rescheduled for Wednesday night, forcing a second postponement and further, unnecessary inconvenience for Ross County and Hibs’ travelling support.

“I think it could have been handled in a different way.

“My criticism/frustration was around not understanding the full extent of the problem but yet scheduling something. It is a public health issue and, from my perspective, there should have been a delay just to ensure we knew where the potential issues could get to. It’s a case of just understanding what this virus can do.”

While there were accusations of protocol breaches in the team hotel and further questions over the number of unvaccinated players, Kensell said Hibs are satisfied they did all they could and insisted there was never any discussion about forfeiting the games.

“It’s probably worth me pointing out, we’re not talking about big numbers who are unvaccinated. Not even a handful.

“We’ve done everything right. NHS Lothian informed us that we followed the right guidance – two coaches travelling up, tests every day. In many ways we went above and beyond.

“But, coming into the winter, we all need to be incredibly vigilant around taking all the necessary precautions because it kind of rips through like wildfire, it really does.”

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