The Sunday Mail
ZIFA’s failure to find common ground with the Premier Soccer League over the resumption of local football this year is raising fears the association could fail to raise a full squad to face Malawi on Sunday, especially after FIFA last week released new protocols on how players are supposed to be released for international assignments.
ZIFA have confirmed with their counterparts at the Football Association of Malawi that the Warriors and the Flames will square off at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre.
This could be Zimbabwe’s only preparatory game ahead of next month’s resumption of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
However, with FIFA recently agreeing on new protocols with football confederations and influential bodies such as the World League Forum (WLF), global footballers body FIFPRO and European Club Associations (ECA) on how the release of players is to be handled in the era of Covid-19, ZIFA look set to find it difficult to secure all their foreign contingent.
This could leave Warriors coach Zdravko “Loga’’ Logarusic with only a pool of domestic Premiership players for his squad.
The Croat, who had been holed up in his homeland for the last two months, has made it clear he will not use players who have been inactive for a long period. Loga naturally had to look at players whose leagues have been active or were recently active to avoid gambling with unfit players and exposing them to injuries.
FIFA secretary-general Fatma Samoura told associations in a circular on Thursday that the new protocols occasioned by the pandemic had provided “a beacon of hope” for football to continue under new conditions.
“Covid-19 has resulted in an unprecedented challenge for world football, causing widespread disruption and delays to competitions globally. In recent weeks and months, however, the implementation of protocols regarding the return to football has resulted in the successful resumption of domestic club football, continental club football, and most recently international football,” said Samoura.
“These protocols and resumptions have set an example and offered a beacon of hope to the general public in terms of how aspects of our daily lives can return to normal with the correct planning and by exercising the appropriate level of caution. They have provided the necessary assurance to governments and local authorities to enable exceptional treatment of international sport when setting policies concerning international travel restrictions and quarantine.”
The new protocols for the upcoming international windows were unveiled by the Bureau of the FIFA Council to facilitate the return of competitive international football at a global level.
The world football governing body believes there is a need for member associations to work closely with players, clubs, and leagues to overcome challenges wrought by Covid-19.
“FIFA would like to acknowledge that the challenges faced by the world football in the form of Covid-19 is far from being behind us and there understandably remains a degree of uncertainty globally,” Samoura said.
ZIFA communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela said the association was working with the Sports and Recreation Commission to expedite the local game’s resumption.
“ZIFA, as a member of FIFA, will adhere to laid down protocols for safe return to football.
“It is our conviction that football medicine protocols are a preventive measure to mitigate the negative effects of the ghastly and heinous virus. We are working closely with SRC and Ministry of (Youth) Sport, (Arts and Recreation) to ensure a safe return to football,’’ said Gwesela.
Worryingly for Zimbabwe, however, the envisaged co-operation between ZIFA, clubs, players, and the PSL has been non-existent.
The only meeting between ZIFA and the clubs was on the contentious formula for the disbursement of FIFA and CAF Covid-19 relief funds in August. Instead of prioritising the phased restart of the domestic leagues, starting with the Premiership and Division One leagues, ZIFA wanted all affiliates, including dormant ones such as beach football and futsal, to resume activities at the same time.
The protocols agreed between FIFA, ECA, FIFPRO, and WLF, which are meant to safeguard players’ health and safety, do not make Loga’s task any easier. FIFA says players and clubs should not be pressured by regulations or other forces to make decisions that jeopardise the health of players or compromise their actual or perceived safety.
“International windows during Covid-19 will require extensive international and cross-continental travel by players in a context of heightened risk. This raises the need for the highest health and safety standards to protect players, match officials and the public, as we are dealing with a far more complex situation than during the September window, in which only
one confederation played matches, without
significant travel from outside the continent,’’ read part of the document outlining the principles.
The new principles and protocols are considered to be “minimum requirements for the safe participation and release of players for international windows during the current stage of Covid-19”.
PROTOCOLS FOR THE RELEASE ON PLAYERS
Below are excerpts of the new principles and protocols released by FIFA last week:
Rules on the release of players — The dynamic development of the pandemic requires that the rules on the release of players be adapted to ensure that the well-being and health of all individuals involved in international competition are respected.
The temporary amendments made in September 2020 to the FIFA RSTP (Regulation on the Status and Transfer of Players) concerning the release of players should be extended to cover subsequent international windows until further notice (including October & November 2020).
In order for the release/reporting obligation to apply, national associations must inform clubs and players and establish that (i) the required protocols have been fully implemented; and (ii) any exemptions from mandatory quarantine/travel restrictions are in place.
Stakeholders remain concerned that even such a relief of the restrictions does not substantiate that conditions in a country are per se safer and thus a player should still not fear for sanctions should he/she decide not to answer the call up over fears of personal safety.
Non-competitive matches and youth competitions — The football community agreed, in this time of the pandemic, to focus on required/essential competitive matches (i.e. qualifiers for World Cup or continental tournaments and Nations Leagues). Common sense and the guiding principle that “health comes first” require that the mandatory release obligation for friendlies and youth competitions be lifted.
The release of players (i) for National Associations who only play friendlies during an international period; and/or (ii) for youth competitions (including Under-21 matches), shall not be mandatory. Moreover, where friendly matches are played alongside competitive matches during a window, load management for players who are already exposed to a high number of games should be prioritised to provide sufficient rest to players and thus limit injury risks.
Testing requirements — Existing health and safety risks in a country or region requires a rigid testing regime to protect players as well as other critical staff and, by extension, releasing clubs, domestic competitions, and the public.
The applicable match protocol should provide for testing results to be guaranteed within 48 hours of the test in order to provide sufficient protection and allow for safe operation of activities during the window.
The applicable match protocol should also provide not only for pre-match testing of players, but also for post-match testing, to facilitate reintegration with the releasing club.
Player protection schemes and liability The release of players to national teams in the midst of a pandemic carries significant risks not only to players’ health but to their ability to perform their contractual duties vis-àvis their clubs (due to potential temporary incapacity as a result of infection or quarantine requirements). These risks require clarity of responsibility towards the players’ well-being and the potential protections required for players and clubs.