South Africa

FOOTBALL: PSL games to resume in Gauteng ‘bio-bubble’

The return of football action in SA is imminent, with the Premier Soccer League ironing out final details for a safe return to play.

At a press conference on Monday 13 July, Premier Soccer League (PSL) chairman Irvin Khoza confirmed that Gauteng will host the remaining PSL games, which includes Absa Premiership and GladAfrica Championship games, as well as the semi-finals and final of the Nedbank Cup.  

Khoza said three provinces were considered to host the bio-safe controlled environment, and they had pitched these to the government through the Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture.

Initially, they had presented Gauteng and North West as the two provinces which would potentially host the games. Then KwaZulu-Natal entered the fray as well, with an excellent pitch.

“When we submitted our applications to the government the board of governors’ resolution was that we’re going to play all the games in Gauteng and North West. But we did receive a very good pitch from KwaZulu-Natal, which was considered by the task team. Unfortunately, because the application had already been submitted, the venues were to be Gauteng and North West. As we speak now, the PSL has resorted to stick to Gauteng only because of the advantage that it gives,” stated Khoza.

The province has a number of venues fit to host the remaining matches. These include FNB Stadium, Orlando Stadium, Dobsonville Stadium, Rand Stadium, Bidvest Stadium, Loftus Versfeld, Lucas Moripe Stadium and University of Pretoria, to name just a few.

Gauteng has recently been branded as the new epicentre of Covid-19 in the country, and as of 12 July, the Ministry of Health indicated that the province had 98,431 confirmed cases and 644 deaths. The decision to resume football under these conditions is sure to raise questions.

However, Khoza denounced the critics, saying that football is a business, not a game and should be viewed as such. He further stated that the PSL has taken every precaution to mitigate anyone contracting the virus under their watch, adding that a person was more likely to contract the virus at a shopping centre than in the bio-bubble they have created.   

“The issue of the epicentre and issue of the lockdown was emphasising that we minimise their contact with crowds. What we have provided as a solution, we have made it medically safe to play in an environment,” Khoza said. 

“When rugby wants to go back, they must use the PSL model. NICD [National Institute for Communicable Diseases] said it is unbelievable. We went over the top in providing a safe environment. What we have produced is not perfect, but it mitigates against the risk.”

Khoza said they had set themselves a six week/45 days timeline to conclude all the remaining fixtures.

At this point, there are no official fixture dates available, despite reports claiming that the PSL has suggested 18 July as the date for resumption.

“We have not released a date in public and if there’s been any date in public it is not our date because as the PSL we’ve never officially announced a date,” said Khoza. 

“What I am saying is that we’ve submitted the dates to Safa, that’s what we usually do, we submit fixture dates to Safa and what is happening is they’ve taken that information to the compliance officers for discussion.”

Safa has been critical of the PSL’s urgency to resume, which has at times seen the league not communicate efficiently with the mother body. Over the weekend Safa chief executive Tebogo Motlanthe released a statement saying progress was being made by the two parties in an effort to work together better.

“The association has never been against the resumption of football, but we have always emphasised the need to do so under a safe environment and in line with the Joint Liaison Committee compliance resolutions,” added Motlanthe.

Khoza said they had set themselves a six week/45 days timeline to conclude all the remaining fixtures.

He added that some clubs had decried the limited time for training their players after a three-month layoff. However, the chairman said the teams had to soldier on because they are in a “state of war”. World governing body Fifa has also catered for this by increasing the number of substitutions teams can make per game from three to five.  

“We’re saving the industry from collapse, we’re balancing so many sensitive areas of lives and livelihoods,” concluded Khoza. DM

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