LONDON: Muslim football stars Riyad Mahrez and Xherdan Shaqiri are among 150 Premier League players who announced an initiative to help fund the UK’s National Heath Service (NHS) in its fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
The fund, called “#PlayersTogether,” was revealed in a statement on social media by several of the game’s superstars on Wednesday, including Manchester City’s Algerian striker Mahrez and Liverpool’s Swiss midfielder Shaqiri.
“We can confirm that after extensive conversations between a huge number of players from all Premier League clubs we have created our own collective player initiative, #PlayersTogether, and have partnered with NHS Charities Together in order to assist them in generating and distributing funds quickly and efficiently to where they are needed most,” the statement said.
“It is about we, as players, collaborating together to create a voluntary initiative, separate to any other league and club conversation, to try and help, along with so many others in the country, to make a real difference.”
According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, alongside Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, the fund will be managed by Manchester United captain Harry Maguire, Watford’s Troy Deeney and West Ham’s Mark Noble.
The NHS Charities thanked the players for the initiative and it was welcomed by the UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who had contracted COVID-19.
“Warmly welcome this big-hearted decision from so many Premier League footballers to create #PlayersTogether to support NHS Charities. You are playing your part,” Hancock tweeted after the announcement.
The move follows comments by Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters who admitted the league could lose “at least £1 billion ($1.2 billion)” as a result of the virus and this week suggested a 30 percent pay cut for players, but discussions broke down after the Professional Footballers Association said lost tax receipts would end up hurting the NHS.
The league’s players had been criticized, in particular by Hancock, for not doing enough in contrast with top players from Europe’s other high-profile leagues — such as Spain and Germany — who took significant pay cuts amid the crisis.
Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford acknowledged the criticism his fellow footballers had received and welcomed the initiative.
“I think there has been plenty of occasions, for me personally, where we’ve tried to help but we’ve not helped in the best way possible,” Rashford told BT Sport, adding: “You can get some backlash from that. We wanted to take our time with the decision.”
Other Muslim players from the Premier League have been active in helping the fight against the coronavirus, including United’s French midfielder Paul Pogba who used his 27th birthday to team up with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to raise £27,000 for their work helping the world’s vulnerable children during the crisis.
“It’s my birthday and I’m always grateful that me, my family and friends are healthy. Nonetheless, not everybody is in good health right now. The Coronavirus pandemic is affecting the health and lives of many, including children,” Pogba wrote.
“The impact of a large-scale outbreak, especially on poor and vulnerable children, can be immense.
“UNICEF is helping prevent the spread of coronavirus by supplying vital medical supplies, consulting with communities and implementing prevention campaigns. It is a priority to stop the spread of this new virus, and the misinformation that’s spreading alongside it. At times like this we need to come together.”
Arsenal’s German superstar Mesut Ozil also invited fans to share pictures of them proving they are staying at home with any of his replica jerseys, promising to share the best images on his social media channels and an invitation for two people to an Arsenal match at Emirates Stadium.