The English Football Association is providing financial assistance to enable all non-Premier League clubs competing in the FA Cup third round this weekend to undergo COVID-19 tests within the next 72 hours — a move which could result in some sides fielding youth-team players to avoid the prospect of ties being forfeited.
Fifteen fixtures in the Premier League and EFL have been postponed over the past week due to a spate of positive tests at clubs at all levels. And concern is growing within the game that the rapid rise in infections throughout the UK could significantly disrupt the 32 third-round ties scheduled to be played between Jan. 8-11.
League Two side Morecambe, who are due to play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, announced on Dec. 28 that they were postponing their fixtures against Bolton and Bradford and closing their training ground for 10 days due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at the club.
While all Premier League clubs routinely test their players and staff at least once a week as part of strictly-enforced protocols, teams in the EFL and non-league are not required to test, due to the financial burden of doing so.
But with 16 ties involving Premier League teams against lower league opponents, including Tottenham’s trip to Northern Premier League Division One North West side Marine on Jan 10, the English FA has stipulated that all competing clubs must be tested this week ahead of the third round games.
Sources have told ESPN that testing will begin on Tuesday, with clubs from EFL League Two and below, before League One clubs on Wednesday and Championship teams on Thursday. Results are expected to be delivered to each team within 24 hours. The FA is helping to finance tests for clubs in EFL and non-league.
If clubs lose players due to positive tests, FA Cup (all FA Cup games are live on ESPN+) regulations state that ties must be played if an affected team has 14 available players — including youth-team players registered to the club.
Any team which is unable name 14 fit and available players due to positive COVID tests must inform the FA immediately. In the event of a postponement, efforts will be made to re-schedule the tie before the fourth round on Jan. 23, but a failure to play before that date could result in the match being cancelled and the non-affected team progressing to the next round.