HIBERNIAN head coach Jack Ross insists he would have no qualms about the remainder of the season being scrapped as he emphasised the need for perspective in the face of a global health crisis.
The seriousness with which Hibs are approaching the Coronavirus was underlined yesterday when the club’s weekly press conference was switched to the cavernous indoor pitch at their East Lothian training base, meaning the media did not set foot inside the main body of the building.
Following discussions with the club’s medical staff, Ross is seeking to limit – or at the very least, manage – his players’ interactions with the outside world in a bid to ensure they are not directly affected by the illness.
A situation which Ross described as ‘fluid’ continued to develop yesterday when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recommended that gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled from next week, leaving the Scottish football authorities to consider their next step.
The worst-case scenario would be the complete cancellation of what remains of the campaign and, despite Hibs remaining in pole position for a top-six berth and with a Scottish Cup semi-final against Hearts to look forward to, Ross would accept that decision if deemed necessary.
Notwithstanding the squabbles that may prompt in terms of which teams – if any – would be promoted, relegated and win titles, Ross is adamant that curtailing the spread of COVID-19 is bigger than any sporting contest.
“Initially there is that selfish thought of ‘we are trying to do well in the league, we are in a Scottish Cup semi-final, and we want to play the games’,” acknowledged Ross. “But as time goes on I’ve certainly become a lot more balanced.
“This is bigger than us. I’ve got a wife, daughters and I can accept that the football side of things is secondary.
“If all those big games get thrown in the bin in order to make sure we’ll come out of this okay, then so be it.
“The health of individuals is what matters. It is a fluid situation that has changed quite quickly, and I’m guessing could change again in the coming days.”
While there are no plans to lock fans out of stadiums this weekend, it is understood an agreement to play matches behind closed doors is – as it stands – far more likely than the campaign being called off.
Ross is typically circumspect regarding that prospect but reckons it would fundamentally change the dynamic of every game for as long as the restrictions were in place. He believes a cursory glance at PSG’s 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund at an empty Parc des Princes proved that.
“Without a doubt, a game behind closed doors would have a different feel about it,” he continued. “If anyone watched the PSG game on Wednesday night, you can see it is different. A crowd being in attendance just changes the dynamic of a game.
“Ideally, I wouldn’t want it, but I think everyone would say that.
“But if that is the only scenario that ensures we can deal with the issue, then I have no problem with it. It is not going to be an easy solution for those in charge of football to find, because you’re not going to please everyone.”
Indeed, Ross urged supporters to be understanding, regardless of what decision the Scottish FA and SPFL come to, adding: “I hope that, at the moment a decision is made, people have the common sense to realise it will be done in the best interests of the general public – it’s not about football.”
Nevertheless, the Hibs boss – who confirmed that no players or staff have been tested for the virus or are showing any symptoms – did offer an insight into the challenges of creating as sterile an atmosphere as possible this week ahead of tomorrow’s visit of St Johnstone.
“The social distancing part of things is very challenging for everyone,” he said. “It is very difficult to limit that with a football club because changing rooms are very confined spaces.
“The hygiene part of it? I don’t think that should be challenging! People should have good hygiene anyway and this is perhaps just a reminder that should be the case. The hygiene aspect is something we can control.
“There are others at the club who have a lot more responsibility in terms of putting procedures in place to decrease the possibility of infection.
“For us [coaching staff] it has been business as usual, albeit in a slightly strange scenario.”