Footballers who deliberately cough towards an opponent could receive a red card under new Covid-19 guidelines published by the English Football Association (FA).
The measures, published last week, apply to the restart of grassroots football in England amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Players can be sent off if the referee is “certain that someone deliberately, and from close range, coughed into the face of an opponent or match official,” according to the guidelines, which will come into force immediately.
“Given the current situation relating to Covid-19, if a player deliberately coughed in the face of another player, team official or match official, this could be deemed to fall within the Law 12 sending-off offense of ‘using offense, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures,’” said a spokesperson from the International Football Association Board, the sport’s law-making body.
“As with all offenses, the referee has to make a judgement about the true nature of the offense – if it were clearly accidental, then the referee would not take action nor if the ‘cough’ took place with a large distance between the players.
“However, where it is close enough to be clearly offensive, then the referee can take action. This is not a new ‘rule’ but simply an interpretation of Law 12.”
The guidelines add that referees “should not be looking to punish ‘routine’ coughing.” A yellow card could also be issued if the incident is not deemed serious enough to warrant a sending-off.
Players and referees are both also encouraged to avoid spitting and shouting, and it advised that physical contact as part of goal celebrations should be avoided.
The FA’s guidelines were introduced as the country continues to ease out of lockdown, although some localized lockdowns have been implemented in England amid fears of a second wave of infection.