Mbabane: Last to stop and first to resume- that is the story of Burundi.
However, the return of league football in Burundi on Thursday offered some hope to not just Eswatini football but the continent as a whole that their turn might not be too far away.
Following in the footsteps of Germany who kick started the Bundelisga last Saturday, Burundi became the first African nation to resume matches in their local league with a catch-up fixture between Musongati and Athlético Olympic that was outstanding from before the pause in the campaign due to general elections in the country that took place on Wednesday.
Burundi was the only African country that played on during the COVID-19 pandemic, but halted their league six weeks ago in the build-up to the elections.
They will now play on, with fans set to have their temperature checked before they are allowed into the stadia, and other sanitizing methods put in place. The next full round of league games will be played on the weekend of May 30/31.
A number of COSAFA nations are also working out a return to play protocol, with Football Association of Malawi (FAM) President Walter Nyamilandu revealing their position after meeting with concerned supporters on Wednesday.
Fans are eager to see football return in the country as soon as possible, but Nyamilandu says the conditions must be right, and the environment safe. “We would like to applaud the supporters for taking the right approach by contacting us first as the custodians of organized football in the country,” he said.
“They would have resorted to venting out their concerns by demonstrating in the streets. But they realise the need to follow and respect the right channels of presenting concerns in organized football.
As FAM we would also want football to start. But we will do it in a proper manner that takes into consideration the safety of all of us.” Nyamilandu added that the association was hopeful of getting matches under way by August, but that they have also planned for a scenario whereby this is not possible.
“We devised two football calendar scenarios and entailed a delayed start up with September as a deadline or forfeiture of the season in the event of the status quo prevailing until end of the year.
We started the process of achieving option one of calendar resumption last week Thursday, when we met Super League of Malawi, Regional Associations, National Referees Association and National Women’s Football Association.
“We proposed that we should kick off latest in three months’ time. The process will be followed up by a meeting between the FAM Competitions Committee and the Task Force this Saturday.
Also, last Friday in a press briefing, Eswatini Football Association president Adam ‘Bomber’ Mthethwa said his executive was never going to declare season null and void as they were already working on a ‘operation resume’ that will be guided by government.
Mthethwa said as COVID-19 persist, they have already tasked their Medical Committee headed by EFA vice president Dr Comfort Shongwe to put in place guidelines and conditions of how football activities can be conducted in the safest manner possible to avoid spread of the coronavirus.
Shongwe’s committee was expected to submit the detailed plan for EFA’s executive scrutinize before being handed over to government through the Eswatini Sports and Recreation Council.