The Sunday Mail
As the South African Premier Soccer League outlined a comprehensive blueprint for a return to action on Friday, hopes of the game returning on the domestic scene keep fading by each passing day amid a dark shadow cast by health authorities on the 2020 season.
The Premier Soccer League medical committee, headed by renowned doctor Edward Chagonda, who also heads the ZIFA Sports medicine committee, had been expected to present their report to the association yesterday.
But the day passed without any such development.
The committee is reportedly more worried about the recent spike in Covid-19 cases and tighter lockdown measures announced by the Government last month.
ZIFA, in their last meeting with PSL clubs, had hinted on a September start to the season, which has been postponed since March.
This would have meant that clubs had to undertake fresh pre-season training camps this month.
However, all that now appears a distant dream. Chagonda yesterday cast huge doubt on any immediate resumption of football.
“We are guided by national regulations. Given the current situation, we cannot contemplate the return of football when there is a spike in coronavirus cases.
“The situation is now worse than before and the Government has introduced tighter lockdown measures, so we cannot think of football at the moment.
“There is an escalation of cases at the moment. Even in Europe they stopped playing when there was an escalation of Covid-19 cases, and we are in that situation right now.
“But let us not paint a gloomy picture: We will be monitoring the situation and football can return when the situation improves,” said Chagonda.
His committee have been liaising with the ZIFA competitions committee and the two parties believe that it is “too dangerous to talk about football now’’.
ZIFA communications and competitions manager, Xolisani Gwesela also agreed with Chagonda, insisting the soccer mother body would be guided by empirical research instead of emotions.
Gwesela also stressed that the decision was not only aimed at the PSL, but all their affiliates.
“Starting of the PSL season or any other football activity is guided by Government policy and in adherence to CAF/FIFA recommendations on the return to safe football activity.
“As it stands, coronavirus cases are on the increase and as we indicated, we are working on an empirical research to determine the amount of risk and the extent to which football is exposed to coronavirus.
“That will guide us on when and how to start football.
“Consequently, we will be guided by scientific research,’’ Gwesela said.
Apart from clubs needing to undertake fresh pre-season training, there is also need for the game’s leadership to consider the preparedness of the referees.
FIFA and CAF recently released guidelines which also show that referees need at least six weeks of specialised training to be deemed fit to handle high-level games.
Sources close to the proceedings at the PSL indicate there is less interest now on the return of football, especially after Government effected tighter lockdown conditions.
The new lockdown conditions include a dusk-to-dawn curfew and restrictions on gatherings. “Following the spike in cases of coronavirus, no one is really willing to talk about a return to action.
“Now that Government has introduced stricter conditions and night curfews to curb the spread of the virus, it also means that inter-city travelling remains very much restricted,” said the sources.
While the return of local football seems highly unlikely, at least for this year, the ABSA Premiership is set to bounce back on Tuesday after a five-month hiatus.
The South African Premier Soccer League executive announced a blueprint for the completion of the 2019-2020 season and even outlined dates for the start of the 2020-2021 term.
The 2019-2020 season, which was halted in March due to the coronavirus, resumes on Tuesday and runs until September 5.
South African PSL chairperson, Irvine Khoza, told the media that only 100 people, including players, club officials, match officials and media, would be allowed into match venues.
Khoza also said the 2020-2021 season is set to start on October 9, with the first transfer window running between September 2 and October 17.
The second transfer window will run from February 1 to March 1.
While the ABSA Premiership can afford double-headers to complete the remaining eight weeks of the 2019-2020 season, Zimbabwe’s case is different as no ball had been kicked when Covid-19 struck.
The South African Premiership had a dress rehearsal yesterday with the staging of the Nedbank Cup semi-final double-header featuring Baroka against Bloemfontein Celtic and a late game between Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits.