Hibs chief Ben Kensell speaks on vaccinated players, whistleblower, and SPFL frustrations as he discusses Covid-19 outbreak

Ben Kensell was measured and calm in his response, but there were certainly fragments of frustration chipping away at his words.

By Patrick McPartlin
Thursday, 4th November 2021, 6:00 am
Hibs chief executive Ben Kensell has had a busy few days
Hibs chief executive Ben Kensell has had a busy few days

The Hibs chief executive was reflecting on the events that led to the SPFL postponing the Scottish Premiership match against Ross County at the Global Energy Stadium – twice.

"We wanted to play the matches, but the welfare of our players and our staff is paramount. They come first, simple as that. That’s where we draw the line," he explained.

“Yes, we’d like to play the games, we wanted to play the games, and there’s frustration that we couldn’t play the games. You don’t want to travel all the way up to Dingwall and back down without playing.

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"But we had to deal with the situation; I think we’ve dealt with it as well as we possibly could as a club, and I'm confident and comfortable in the outcome that’s been reached with the SPFL and now we’ve got to get back to training as soon as we possibly can.”

Hibs’ messaging since last Saturday has been consistent. Every Covid-19 measure was adhered to, guidance was followed, regular testing has been carried out. The former Norwich City chief admits he can’t see anywhere the club could have improved their approach.

"Could we have done more? Probably not. We travelled up in the appropriate way, on two coaches; we stayed the night before for good preparation given we were that far away from Edinburgh; we tested all week and we isolated the positive cases. We have one of the best medical departments in the country.

"It’s hard to know what we could have done better. We spoke to NHS Lothian who backed up what we’ve done and pointed out things we could perhaps look at moving forward.

"One list was comprehensively positive, and the other was very, very limited in terms of what more we could have done.”

Kensell covered numerous topics as he addressed the media on Wednesday, barely 24 hours after the Easter Road side had cancelled a scheduled pre-match press conference with Jack Ross as it became apparent that the club would not be able to fulfil the rearranged game against the Staggies.

Other Scottish football figures have previously spoken about players and vaccinations, and the issue remains a hot topic in the world of sport. While the Hibs chief confirmed that not every player had been double-jagged, he stressed that the vast majority of the squad had already received both doses.

"We’re not talking about big numbers that are unvaccinated. I know how many players are unvaccinated; you're talking not even a handful. A high percentage of our squad is vaccinated. A very high percentage,” he stated.

Kensell also dismissed claims from a whistleblower who contacted the SPFL and a Glasgow-based newspaper to claim he had witnessed some members of the Hibs squad failing to follow Covid-19 protocols in their hotel before Saturday's scheduled encounter.

“I've investigated it thoroughly; if people have not been wearing masks then we have addressed that issue. I wasn't there, I can’t vouch for it in person. But it’s very hard to prove these things.

"I’m not saying anyone is a liar. We have our processes, the players know their responsibilities and ultimately, I’m confident in our processes and in the responsibility the players have to follow them.

"[The claims] came from the blue side of Glasgow. That’s a fact. I think there was a genuine concern [from the whistleblower] but I also think that this was someone trying to sensationalise a situation where the welfare of many, many people is at stake.

"What I don't want to do is list off instances where I’ve been round grounds in the country and I’ve not seen practices being followed. Am I going to go to a paper and say that? No, because if I have concerns I will speak to the club. I think we see every day situations where people perhaps aren’t fulfilling things to the letter of the law. And I think it’s really important that everyone does.”

Asked to elaborate on his reference to the “blue side of Glasgow”, Kensell insisted he was not looking to make a mountain out of a molehill: “We have been informed that the story came from that area. I’m merely pointing that out.

"What we’ll end up doing is creating a storm in a teacup over something that shouldn’t be. We’re dealing with a squad that has been decimated and a postponement that had to happen due to us not being able to fulfil our fixtures."

There was never a threat of sanctions being applied to the Capital club but Kensell couldn't hide his frustration at aspects of his dealings with league chiefs.

"My criticism stroke frustration centred on the SPFL not understanding the full extent of the problem, but rescheduling something anyway," he sighed.

"It is a public health issue. From my perspective, that’s where the delay came from, just trying to know where the potential issues could get to and, lo and behold, they have got to where they have got to.

"It’s not a case of, ‘I told you so’. This is what the virus can do. Now we’ve got to get over it, and get through it."

Kensell is eager for Hibs to use their experience for the benefit of others, extending an open invitation to other clubs to contact the Easter Road side if they have the misfortune of going through a similar scenario.

“The way that we have dealt with it, I think, is something we would hope to share with other clubs, and I’d be happy to pick up the phone to any other club that wants that sort of help,” Kensell explained.

"Lots of other clubs have already been through it. And some will go through it again. But hopefully we can educate other clubs if they get into similar situations.”

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