Return to Play Protocols update

Scottish football’s Return to Playing Protocols have evolved in line with Scottish Government guidance throughout the pandemic and the emergence from it.

On August 9 this year, the legal requirement for physical distancing and limits on gatherings were removed as the country entered Level 0, resulting in clubs being able to play in front of more fans and, subject to local authority approval, at full capacity.

With the country’s vaccination programme now at an advanced stage, and citizens now familiar with the day-to-day baseline mitigation measures that remain in place (such as the mandatory use of face coverings in indoor public places and on public transport), the Joint Response Group believes it is now appropriate for clubs to make their own business decisions based on their own risk assessments.

This is in part due to the success of the national vaccination programme, but also in recognition of the expertise and experience of clubs in complying with the government’s existing guidance.

One key area for clubs to consider, based on their own risk assessment, is the continued adherence to protocols requiring physical distancing in all training and matchday settings – including but not limited to changing rooms, travel, overnight stays, and technical areas – as well as matchday Red Zones.

The reason such protocols have remained in place is to mitigate instances where a positive test is returned and close-contact identification is carried out by the government-appointed Elite Sports Clinical Advisory Group. Given that anyone within two metres is considered by Scottish Government as a close contact, the requirement for Red Zones has continued within Scottish football and JRG protocols as a mitigation measure, not least to avoid widespread close contacts jeopardising clubs’ ability to fulfil fixtures.

Now that vaccination rates have increased considerably in the age cohort of professional footballers, with mandatory distancing removed from indoor and outdoor events by Scottish Government, and with many clubs keen to remove Red Zones to facilitate the attendance of more home and away supporters, the JRG considers the subject of physical distancing to be an area for clubs to determine through their own risk assessment. The requirement to have a Red Zone will no longer be mandatory but the JRG protocols are still available to use, should clubs wish to continue to implement them.

Clubs - and for the purposes of clarity, match officials - should be cognisant of close contact criteria remaining at 2m and be aware of the risks any removal could have in the areas outlined above in the event of a positive case.

Should any club wish to continue with 2m physical distancing measures on match days, this must be accommodated by the home clubs as per the existing protocols. Clubs are asked to discuss and agree match day arrangements as far in advance of the fixture as possible.

Clubs who are currently testing should continue to do so and highlight any positive cases as normal. Clubs should also be aware that in the event of any outbreaks or spikes in positive cases, the JRG reserves the right to reintroduce physical distancing requirements.

These changes can be implemented immediately, however clubs should discuss arrangements with upcoming opponents as soon as possible to agree requirements.

The JRG will remain on-hand for any help and advice and trusts clubs to continue to take a responsible approach to adhering to football protocols and Scottish Government guidelines, especially in any relaxation of physical distancing.