Valencia’s ‘kiasuism’ turns out to be right against Covid-19
Spanish side's Singaporean president says his club were vindicated in implementing coronavirus measures early, despite the criticism
Valencia's Singaporean president Anil Murthy said that players from his club testing positive for the coronavirus was "not alarming nor surprising", insisting the club's "kiasu" standards meant they were ahead of the curve in La Liga in implementing safety measures.
The Spanish side - owned by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim - yesterday announced that "around 35 per cent" of their players and staff have tested positive for the virus.
All cases were asymptomatic.
Last Sunday, Argentinian defender Ezequiel Garay became the first player from Spain's top flight to test positive for Covid-19, with ex-Manchester City defender Eliaquim Mangala and Spanish international left-back Jose Luis Gaya also later testing positive.
Just a few days earlier on March 12, La Liga had suspended all matches for at least two weeks.
Murthy told The New Paper: "The story of three Valencia players being positive for coronavirus is not alarming nor surprising.
"Although all our players and coaching staff displayed no symptoms and were well, many were concerned about the situation...
"To put them at ease, we did tests. I had told them that given the contagion curve in Spain, we should expect 20 per cent (to come back) positive."
In a statement, Valencia pointed to their Champions match against Atalanta at a packed San Siro in Milan on Feb 20, saying: "These latest results show the exposure inherent to such matches has caused a positive test rate of around 35 per cent."
With over 2,000 coronavirus deaths, Italy is second only to China.
Northern Italy - which includes Milan and Bergamo, where Atalanta are based - has been worst hit.
While not as hard hit, Spain has had around 300 deaths and about 8,000 confirmed cases, with the nation now in a two-week lockdown.
A Valencia fan who attended the match at the San Siro later tested positive for Covid-19.
Following the match, Sky Sports reported on Feb 28 that Valencia had cancelled all non-sports meetings that posed a risk to their players and staff, including media commitments.
Spain's health authorities had said a day earlier that they were investigating the first suspected cases of local transmission.
Murthy, 46, said Valencia implemented "kiasu" (Hokkien for being afraid to lose out) standards to push for maximum safety for players, coaches and employees.
He said: "We were the first club to impose isolation measures for our players and coaching staff.
"About a month ago, in spite of criticism from fans, press and the authorities, we banned all access to players and coaching staff to press and fans.
"No more public events, no more fan events and no access to press during games. No more kids walking players out, etc. It was a hugely unpopular measure in February.
"But it was the right decision.
"We also started planning how to operate with minimum staff. As a football club, your main activity is playing football.
"We built all our operations around that and cut off the rest. We flew from private terminals and did not give access to fans and the press. Not very popular.
"We closed the training grounds for the first team and academy last Friday. As soon as it was made official that La Liga would be suspended. To us, it was an eventuality and we were prepared to act fast."
Fellow Singaporean Sean Bai, who is a director who heads Valencia's youth system and, like Murthy, was a former diplomat, said: "Our experience in Singapore with Sars prompted us to start making contingency plans."
The severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak hit Singapore in 2003, causing 33 deaths from 238 infections.
On Valencia's coronavirus contingencies, Bai told TNP: "Some had mocked us for overreacting but, in hindsight, the measures and preparations we made were justified and necessary."
He added that the club, who sit seventh in La Liga and won the Copa del Rey last season, had already planned how to keep their players busy and in shape.
The 34-year old explained: "We prepared tasks to keep them occupied at home, including exercises, a nutrition plan, and even assignments from our club psychologist to help them overcome the monotony.
"We maintain close contact with the players and staff and try to keep them apprised on the latest updates.
"Apart from the medical aspect, it is important to keep the morale high.
"As such, we started providing 24-hour content on our club mobile app, and initiated a #StayHomeChallenge where players share their exercise workouts or tricks.
"We are also organising an online E-sports tournament to band the community, both local and international, together."