Spurs League Cup tie at risk as Leyton Orient players test positive for Covid-19
League Two club return a high number of positive tests, fixture could be forfeited
Tottenham’s clash with Leyton Orient is expected to be called off after players from the League Two club tested positive for Covid-19. Photograph: PA
Leyton Orient have shown a high number of positive Covid-19 tests in their playing squad – believed to number in double figures – which has led to the expectation that their Carabao Cup tie at home to Tottenham on Tuesday will be called off and serious questions being asked about the biosecurity of League Two.
The testing of players is not mandatory in the English Football League – as it is in the Premier League – with the authorities content to insist on stringent hygiene measures and work-place social distancing. They say that the evidence shows there is a minimal risk of transition of the virus via training and playing outdoors.
Spurs, though, wanted a degree of reassurance ahead of the third round cup game and they paid for Orient’s first-team squad to be tested after the 2-2 draw at home to Mansfield on Saturday. The results have sent shockwaves across the east London club and beyond, with Orient announcing on Monday lunchtime that they had closed their Breyer Group Stadium and training ground until further notice.
Mansfield plan to lodge a formal complaint with the EFL, arguing that Orient players should have been tested before Saturday’s match given the Orient manager, Ross Embleton, revealed there were a “number of people suffering with illnesses” in his pre-match press conference.
At the time Embleton stressed it was “not a Covid issue for any of us to worry about” and after the game he revealed that as many as “nine players” were struggling to play because of a “bug”. Orient’s doctor and head physio conducted regular medical checks and are understood to have felt comfortable the symptoms reported by players were unrelated to Covid-19 until last Friday, when it became apparent a couple of players were suffering from symptoms linked to the virus. As a precaution, those players were not involved in the match against Mansfield; they are thought to be among the positive tests.
Orient say they would have paid for tests before the Spurs tie and have since tested all behind-the-scenes staff, including stadium personnel. Mansfield will test players and staff in the next 24 hours and Plymouth, who played Orient last Tuesday, have also made arrangements to undertake precautionary testing, although no players or staff have reported Covid symptoms. It is understood some Orient players played against Plymouth despite not feeling 100 per cent.
EFL clubs did have to test before returning to pre-season training, at the midway point of the pre-season and before their first competitive games. Players also have to be tested on their return from international duty. The league is adamant compulsory testing was removed not owing to prohibitive costs but on the strength of medical evidence after more than 99 per cent of tests following last season’s restart were negative.
Orient said in a statement they had notified Mansfield, Plymouth and Oldham – who they played the previous Saturday – before they went public with the news of their positive tests. The implications of the high number of them are hugely worrying for the league.
Orient added that the “priority is the health and well-being of players and staff. Those who have tested positive will now strictly follow government self-isolation guidelines.”
What to do with the cup tie against Spurs was discussed throughout Monday with both clubs, the EFL and Public Health England involved. Spurs are mired in an unforgiving run of fixtures – they are also involved in Europa League qualification – and they have not felt there is any room to rearrange against Orient. It could be argued that if Orient cannot stage the tie as intended, they should forfeit and Spurs advance to the next round.
Orient were set to receive a £125,000 facilities fee from Sky, who chose to televise the tie live. The EFL supervise the money from the £595m five-year deal they struck with the broadcaster and it is unclear whether they will withhold all or part of the payment to Orient. The governing body is trying to be as supportive as possible to its clubs, who have already been hit hard during the pandemic. – Guardian