Football: Premier League reinforces ban on players hugging during goal celebrations

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard has defended his players amid a growing debate about teams celebrating goals with hugs and high-fives while the country is battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer has urged players to stop such physical contact and a senior politician suggested yellow cards should be brandished for hugging.

The Premier League was holding virtual meetings to reinforce the message that protocols must be respected, but Lampard echoed other top flight managers in suggesting that was easier said than done.

"Football has and always will be a game of instinct. If we want to take the instinct out of the game then it is not that simple," he told reporters before Sunday's game at Fulham.

"The players are good lads and they don't want to do the wrong thing.

"In a perfect world we will all walk back to the halfway line and just start again. But it maybe will not quite be the case, and I do not think you can hold players hugely to account unless there is clear flouting of those rules."

Julian Knight, the chair of the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee, told Reuters earlier that hugging sent the wrong message at a time of national emergency with many people having to self-isolate.

"In the same way as referees issue yellow cards for players taking off their shirts (for unsporting behaviour), they could do the same thing with this," said Knight.

"Surely it's unsportsmanlike to risk someone getting COVID, isn't it?"

Premier League guidelines for on-field behaviour state that "unnecessary contact, particularly between opposition teams, must be avoided. This includes handshakes, high-fives and hugging".

Media reports have highlighted examples at recent matches, with Manchester City in the spotlight after eight players held a group hug when Phil Foden scored in Thursday's 1-0 Premier League win over Brighton & Hove Albion.

Meanwhile, Aston Villa's home match against Everton on Monday has been postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Midlands club, the Premier League has announced.

Villa's entire first-team squad and support staff have been in isolation since last week after 14 positive cases of coronavirus were reported at the club.

Dean Smith's side were due to visit Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday, but the game was pushed back to later in the season, with Fulham stepping in to fill the gap in the fixture list.