Mbabane: The most difficult thing right now is being the chairman of the Premier League of Eswatini (PLE). Peter ‘Touch’ Magagula has to deal with infightings in their own Board of Governors (BoGs) structure, massage egos from within his organisation, representing truthfully the interest of the PLE and its affiliates in the Eswatini Football Association (EFA) executive to giving this soccer mad nation that football will finally be played in the country amid the novel coronavirus.
The truth of the matter is that focus has shifted from strategizing on how best football can resume under the current Covid-19 pandemic to inside politics ahead, of course of an elective Annual General Meeting (AGM) in August. Government through the Eswatini Sports and Recreation Council under the Ministry of Sports asked sports associations to submit detailed plans on how their respective competitions can resume under the ‘dark cloud’. The reality is that, under the current government Covid-19 rules and regulations of having a gathering of not more than 20 people makes it impossible. Football has started in other countries, especially in Europe with the Burundi in the mother continent being the first to kick-start. England resumed its Premier League on Wednesday, June 17 under strict Covid-19 guidelines. In Spain, strict health guidelines are in place, with ball boys being asked to disinfect the ball every time it left the field and players being told to maintain a safe distance when talking to the referee.
Players were also asked to ‘minimize physical contact’ during goal celebrations, though there was lots of hugging and plenty of contact between Sevilla players after forward Lucas Ocampos opened the scoring by converting a penalty in the 56th minute. The same happened after midfielder Fernando added to the lead with a header in the 62nd. There were no handshakes and team photos before the match but players lined up at midfield without maintaining a safe distance. Everyone except the coaches had to wear gloves and masks on the benches.
With the recent events unfolding in our football, focus has shifted from how best we can resume the MTN League and the EswatiniBank Cup which were brought to a halt by coronavirus in mid-March to politics. It just gives the conclusion that there will be no football anytime soon despite EFA’s detailed four-phase plan to resume the season. EFA’s four-phase plan was earmarked for June 15 but it was not the case as government continues to struggle to arrest the virus that is already spreading like wild fire. The first phase of ‘operation restart’ was the biological phase which will include intensive screening and testing of all involved in football. These include officials, players and referees among others. This particular phase will last for two weeks to allow those found positive to be treated.
“It will also involve preparation of playing venues in making sure they meet health requirements deemed fit in the fight against Covid-19,” EFA Secretary General Frederick Mngomezulu announced. The second phase will take three weeks and will be dedicated to teams to start preparing for a return to action. The first week will be for individual training, second week for group trainings of about eight and the third week will allow physical contact training. All this time, players and staff will be tested daily of the deadly coronavirus.
The third phase is the competition phase that will see teams battle it out for silverware and finish the season.“This phase will take eight weeks as we will be playing even midweek and can be extended by a further two weeks to allow all remaining competitions to wrap up. Players and match officials will be tested after every match.”
EFA and its commercial wing, the PLE said there are a lot of factors to be followed before the beautiful game can resume. The government of the kingdom is the one who can give directives to suspend the season due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Truly there are a lot of factors to be followed and these things need money which government does have to cater for all these things which are needed. From fumigating playing venues, dressing rooms, Covid-19 testing kits and the likes- it becomes costly but luckily EFA has the many. As reported by Independent News Sports, EFA has over E11 million in combined contributions from the world football governing body FIFA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) specifically for restarting football amid the coronavirus scare.
The reality is that some members of the BoGs want the season to be nullified because they feel EFA and the PLE will not have money to assist the teams meet the guidelines set by FIFA, World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health. Restarting football comes with a lot of expenses for football clubs from Covid-19 protective gear, to two sets of kits per game and fumigating of players’ transport. Never mind resuming training and preparing for matches, which comes with its costs and to an extent, club owners are justified.
In the midst there are players’ contractual obligations to take care of. Most players will be out of contracts June 30 and it is the responsibility of every club to renew or not to renew. But the question is always if football is resuming or not.
So how does ‘Touch’ deal with this one and if he gets the master plan, it could be a ticket to another term as chairman of the PLE.