Infection fires at NAC Breda, AZ, PSV and now at Ajax. More and more players in professional football are getting the corona virus. All clubs have taken strict measures to keep the virus out, how can it go wrong?
1. The football bubble does not exist
There is often talk of a football bubble, but that is wrong. Unlike, for example, in the NBA, Formula 1 and major cycling races, players and staff of football clubs do not stay in a hotel closed to outsiders, but go home after every training and game.
In the gas station, supermarket or at home, they then come into contact with people from outside the bubble, which increases the risk of contamination. “According to the RIVM, the vast majority of infections take place at home, with family and friends”, reports a KNVB information officer.
“At the clubs themselves, extensive protocols guarantee the basic rules for fighting the virus. However, due to the high corona numbers in society, infections cannot be ruled out, because the players go home at the end of the day.”
The KNVB’s corona protocol, which has been approved by the government, states that all players and staff members must be tested at least once every seven days and before each match.
A PCR test is used for this. At the start of the season, the KNVB ordered 50,000 tests from the Eurofins company, whereby a substantial group discount could be negotiated. Normally a PCR test costs 75 euros per person, now clubs only pay half. This season, each club has spent an estimated 40,000 euros on corona tests; for some clubs in the Kitchen Champion Division quite a considerable expense.
There are two drawbacks to the PCR test. First, it takes 24 to 48 hours for the results to be known. If a club plays a game on a Saturday evening, the corona tests are often taken on Thursday morning. Infected players will then come into contact with their teammates for one or two days before the test result is known. In addition, players can still become infected after the corona test on Thursday and still play a match on Saturday and ignite fellow players and opponents.
The second disadvantage is that the result of the PCR test is not always reliable. About one in two hundred results with a PCR test falls into a gray area. This can indicate someone who has just been infected and has few virus particles, but also someone who has been tested much longer after the infection and whose virus particles are already decreasing.
With such a ‘gray test result’, a second test must be done, because the result can vary from gray to positive or negative every day. At Ajax this week, a few players tested positive for the corona virus, possibly caused by a residue of the virus that they had been infected with a few months earlier.
“The PCR tests are very sensitive. That’s great, because they allow you to detect the virus well,” says KNVB doctor Edwin Goedhart. “But we now know from experience that players who have been through an infection test weak-positive again every so often due to residual material.”
Quick tests, which were approved by the government a few weeks ago, could be a solution, but are not yet used in football for two reasons.