Mthethwa warns PSL to stick to Covid-19 protocols as season resumes

Mthethwa warns PSL to stick to Covid-19 protocols as season resumes
The PSL season will resume on 8 August with the Nedbank Cup semi-finals where Mamelodi Sundowns will take on Bidvest Wits while Bloemfontein Celtic go toe to toe with Baroka. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Daniel Irungu)

Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa has warned the Premier Soccer League (PSL) that he reserves the right to cancel it, should the organisation breach Covid-19 protocols when it returns to play this weekend.

Football is the first contact sport allowed to return to competition after all sports were suspended in late March, and it’s vital, for various reasons, that it does so safely and without a hitch.

The season will resume on 8 August with the Nedbank Cup semi-finals, where Mamelodi Sundowns will take on Bidvest Wits, while Bloemfontein Celtic go toe-to-toe with Baroka. League games will kick off on 11 August, with the first weekend of September earmarked as the final day of the season.

Most obviously, the safety of players, coaches, backroom staff and officials involved in completing the 2019/20 season in a Gauteng “bio-bubble”, is a top priority.

But there are massive financial implications for the PSL and for the South African Football Association (Safa) if the league cannot be completed. Broadcast rights holders are likely to withhold at least a portion of their fees if there are no matches to bring to their viewers. The PSL is currently in a five-year R2-billion deal with SuperSport.

The league needs to sort out winners, which comes with a financial benefit, while also reaching clarity on teams that will be relegated – which also comes with a different kind of financial impact. If the league cannot be completed and winners declared, and stragglers are relegated based on their league position when the suspension occurred – the PSL could face legal challenges.

Another reason is that a successful return to competition for football would be a litmus test for rugby in particular, which is desperate to resume as it faces a similar cash crunch to football.

But the haste to ensure the PSL and the GladAfrica Championship (the second tier league) are completed, could lead to shortcuts in Covid-19 compliance measures. Mthethwa warned against this situation at a briefing on Monday morning, where he gave updates on the department’s progress after four months of lockdown.

“An internal monitoring team has been on the ground and monitored 11 of the PSL football clubs who received permission to train,” Mthethwa said. “All teams have taken all necessary measures to comply with the plans they have submitted.

“We are pleased that the Department of Health has concurred with the proposal for football to return to completing the season behind closed doors. It has to be done in a biologically safe environment, which is a closed environment of the procured hotels, the transport hubs, training grounds and stadiums. This is subject to the plans they have submitted and all other protocols as outlined in the regulations and directions published by the department.

“Those plans should be adhered to. It’s not a fait accompli that football will get onto the field of play and compete. They will only play based on the plans submitted to the department of health. We reserve the right to halt any activity if we feel and think that those protocols and plans are not being adhered to.

“The compliance officers of both the South African Football Association and the PSL will work together and ensure that all measures comply with the commitment made by the PSL in their submissions to government. We are expecting to receive the compliance officer’s report from Safa on the state of readiness for the NSL to resume play.

“But I must express my appreciation that the PSL and Safa have worked together through the joint liaison committee to approach government with a unified voice.” 

Mthethwa also revealed that 75 sporting codes – including rugby – had submitted applications to return to play since the lockdown reached Level 3. 

Of those, 46 have received permission to return to training, while Athletics South Africa (ASA) took the decision to remain suspended based on its own medical advice. DM



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