IT HAS taken a global pandemic to prompt action, but it looks like spitting on the football field will become a yellow card offence before too long. It has been a mystery why, in this sanitised age in which communal post-match baths have long since disappeared and the slightest trace of blood can hold a game up, that spitting bodily fluids seems to go unnoticed and unpunished.

We are taught, at a young age, to blow our noses, to dispose of the contents and to put our hands over our mouths when we cough – this has been personal hygiene 101 for decades. But footballers can spit on the ground whenever they choose, and often spit at each other. It is clearly a bad habit that has to stop in the aftermath of the Coronavirus crisis.

Thankfully, it has been highlighted at long last. A well-known virologist spoke to The Independent and explained that, “if a person is infected but asymptomatic, or infected and symptomatic, the virus is in the throat and can be ejected into the environment by spitting.”

Gobbing apologists claim the players need to get rid of mucus when they are playing, that exercise thickens the mucus and it becomes hard to swallow. Why then do other sportspeople not feel the need to do likewise? Basketball and tennis have penalised players for spitting, but football authorities have never lifted a hankerchief in response, except when a Rijkaard-Völler incident (World Cup 1990) makes all the wrong headlines. And what of referees, do you see them expectorate on the pitch?

Former Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro has endorsed the call to ban spitting.  She told the media that infection-centric training should be mandatory and the virus has taken that training to a new level “that we’re only starting to learn about”. Arsenal medic, Gary O’Driscoll added his support: “For so many reasons, preventing all spitting on the pitch must be non-negotiable on the return to training and return to playing.”

Carneiro revealed that when players are in full flight, they breath at 45 to 55 breaths per minute, ample opportunity for infection to be passed on. She said players are, despite all their bravado, very vulnerable. “Something needs to change and potentially this could be a change for the better for all of us,” she commented.

FIFA’s Medical Committee Chair, Michel D’Hooge, wants spitting to be punished with a yellow card, calling it unhygienic behaviour and stressed that the coronavirus could be spread by saliva. “This is one of the reasons why we have to be very careful before we start again. I am not pessimistic, but I am rather sceptical at the moment,” he said.

Carneiro also warned of premature resumption. “It only takes one case to blow up and to put  a lot of individuals at risk,” she cautioned. RT summed it up when asking, “Did we need the pandemic to rid football of its disgusting spitting addiction?”.

There’s another side to this story, however. Is spitting illegal in public everywhere in the world? – if it isn’t, then it certainly should be.

Sources: The Telegraph, RT, Independent, Evening Standard, The Sun, Lancashire Post.

@GameofthePeople

Photo: PA