Tony Higgins has a cautionary message for players, clubs and fans still trying to get their heads around the chaos being heaped upon the game by coronavirus.
Don’t forget Brexit!
The UK has already left the European Union, but under the terms of the transition period, all EU rules and regulations continue to apply.
That will all change on January 1, 2021 when, as things stand, the country is due to go it alone, a move that could have a huge impact on labour laws.
“Under normal circumstances, Brexit would be THE talking point for British football right now,” said Higgins, who is part of world players’ union FIFPro’s response group to coronavirus.
“At its most simplified, you are looking at a situation where, in order to play here after January 1, you have to be a British citizen or possess a special work permit.
“Now, as anyone who enjoys watching football will tell you, there are an awful lot of players in Scotland who currently don’t fall into that category – all the guys from European Union countries.
“There are some high-profile ones at the very top, and here the likes of Odsonne Edouard at Celtic would be an obvious example.
“There are quite a few scattered about the Premiership and even the Championship, too.
“Take them out of the picture, and our game would start to look very different indeed.
“We’d be going back to the days when teams were largely made up of local lads, with maybe a few English or Welsh chucked into the mix.”
As the 65-year-old former Hibs striker explained, today’s reality is a bit more complicated.
“We already have the mechanism for players, who are regular internationalists, to come here on a work permit,” Higgins continued.
“Rangers did this with Alfredo Morelos, who is a Colombian. You apply to come and work here and, if you get the nod, then over you come.
“It also needs to be pointed out that all expectation would be for European nationals to be allowed to see out their deals, or at the very least, see out the end of the season.
“Where it gets crazy is the number of variables.
“Will we get a hard Brexit? Or a soft Brexit? Will it even go through at the start of January?
“As with all things involving the virus, we have to go along with the law of the land. And because of my involvement with FIFPro, I have been following any news linked to the issue as closely as I can.
“Again, it is all very uncertain.
“The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has just said that Brussels remains open to extending the transition period by up to two years.
“That could take us up to the start of 2023 with the status quo – but it is whether there is the political will to push it back so far.
“We shall have to wait and see.”
Higgins’ biggest fear right now is of a big second wave of coronavirus.
The SPFL’s controversial decision to call all four of their divisions may be a blessing in disguise in this regard.
In his work, he is seeing efforts being made across the globe to try to protect the livelihoods of players and clubs by making plans for a return to some sort of normality.
Yet while both understanding and sympathising with the motivation behind the attempts, Higgins has revealed the potential consequences alarm him.
“If you look at a lot of the so-called smaller countries, there has been a huge desire to get the remainder of the 2019-20 campaigns played, at least in the top flights so the championships and European qualifications can get sorted out,” he said.
“There is a feeling that we are returning to something like normal after lockdown, and in a lot of places, they have been playing the fixtures which were lost to the pandemic.
“Doing so allows them to fulfil existing commitments to broadcasters and sponsors and, of course, satisfies sporting integrity.
“It also means there can be no question whether such and such a team deserves to be champions or get relegated.
“However, you are not talking here about countries with the wealth required to spend huge sums to ensure the risk of coronavirus infection to players when the games take place is as low as to be negligible.
“The Bundesliga has been back behind closed doors, and the likes of England, Spain and Italy are ready to follow suit.
“Because of the revenue they get from the television broadcasters, they are able to meet the cost of mass testing every single person going into the stadium – and here we are talking about hundreds of people – which would otherwise be prohibitive.
“Even then, there are concerns as we are seeing some positive results getting thrown up, with the Bournemouth goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale revealed to be asymptomatic just days after getting a clear outcome to a separate test.
“But for countries who are looking at taking measures which are not so thorough, there must be a real worry they could provide a vehicle for spreading corona.”
Despite the clamour in Scotland to get the 2019-20 Premiership campaign played out to a conclusion, the season has been called.
With Celtic crowned champions and Hearts relegated, plus all the lower leagues concluded, the one outstanding competition remaining is the Scottish Cup.
Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack touted the possibility of playing the semi-finals and final behind closed doors in a “hub” environment as a curtain raiser to the 2020-21 campaign, and his idea was enthusiastically backed by Celtic boss Neil Lennon.
In theory, the ties could take place as early as July but Higgins urges caution.
“There is clearly a huge desire among everybody in football to get games played again,” he said.
“I am seeing that everywhere in the world.
“The situation is different in individual countries because all national associations have to operate within the parameters set by their respective governments.
“They vary from place to place, depending on what is viewed as the best approach. But everyone is desperate to get back.
“My fear is that underestimating the dangers of a second wave of coronavirus could be catastrophic – in human terms and to football as a sport.
“If we were to see an outbreak even one-third as bad as the one we are experiencing just now, it would potentially KO much of – if not all – of next season.
“Coming on top of the lay-off we are experiencing in the current lockdown, that would be disastrous for the Scottish game.
“We all want our football back – but it has to be when the time is right.”