Danny Jordaan: “The idea of playing behind closed doors doesn’t work. There will be no football; our decision is final.”
Irvin Khoza: “Firstly, let’s agree that the league was suspended because of the directive by the president [Cyril Ramaphosa] that we must reassess the situation.”
Nathi Mthethwa: “As we speak, they [the PSL] can have their match tomorrow with no spectators.”
The SA Football Players Union (Safpu) has called for cool heads amid last week’s conflicting statements from the domestic football bosses and the sports minister in reaction to the effect of the Covid-19 coronavirus on the local game.
Power struggles appeared to be the order of the day the moment Safa declared a nationwide suspension of football at all levels.
Safa on Monday called for the indefinite postponement of football shortly after government’s decision to ban public gatherings of more than 100 people.
On Tuesday, Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa sent out a different message when he stated that the PSL should continue behind closed doors.
The pronouncement by Mthethwa prompted Safa to call a media conference on Wednesday, where the federation reiterated its stance on “no football until further notice”.
Refusing to budge, the PSL said shortly after its Board of Governors meeting on Thursday that the league would continue to seek ways to resume its programme, which it had put on hold until April 4.
Safpu president Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe told City Press yesterday that this was “not the time to play to the gallery”, when the health and safety of players is at stake.
On its part, Gaoshubelwe said the union had been engaging with the PSL in the past few days by virtue of its existing bargaining agreement with the league.
He said Mthethwa’s statement was unfortunate and ill-timed.
“The situation right now calls for us to have cool heads. Safa and the PSL can explain their stance as I can’t interpret what unfolded.
“What I am happy with is that the health and safety of the players has been taken care of. We believe our input on health and safety issues will be the driving force in the decision-making. Whatever the decision, it must be influenced by thorough investigation and research,” said Gaoshubelwe.
Mthethwa’s unfortunate comments
On Tuesday, Mthethwa said the PSL could continue being played behind closed doors, but only under stringent health and safety guidelines that are in line with disaster management requirements.
“As we speak, they [the PSL] can have their match tomorrow with no spectators,” he said.
“Even if we are going to reach a point where there may be no matches, it will be gradually phased in. But there is an obligation on them to follow to the letter the health and hygiene protocols as outlined by the department of health.”
No love lost btween PSL and Safa
The tensions between the PSL and Safa was apparent as this week’s events were reminiscent of the two organisations’ war over Outsurance sponsorship late last year. That dispute awaits a verdict from an arbitrator.
Safa president Danny Jordaan this week reminded the PSL – and, to some extent, Mthethwa – that Safa is the governing body of all football in the country, while the PSL is an “internal subordinate body of Safa”.
“You go to CAF, to the Safa constitution, it says the same. The league is our special member and therefore we have a special relationship with them. But it is in the context of the Fifa, CAF and Safa constitutions. As far as the minister is concerned, he’s the highest authority in government on all sport. I don’t think there is confusion around these issues.”
Jordaan, however, did not mince his words when he said: “There will be no football; our decision is final.”
The league minds its own business
Orlando Pirates chairperson Irvin Khoza was clear in his address to the media on Thursday, where he said the league took instruction from the government.
“Firstly, let’s agree that the league was suspended because of the directive by [President Cyril Ramaphosa] that we must reassess the situation,” he said.
“In that directive, there were certain conditions and, critical among all, was the issue of the 100-person limit, which we required the executive committee to make sure we comply with.”
Interestingly, Khoza did not mention Safa among an array of stakeholders the PSL had engaged with over the past few days while the league was seeking ways to save the campaign.
“We engaged [Police Minister Bheki Cele], [Health Minister Zweli Mkhize] and [Mthethwa] to make sure that we understand.”
The PSL invited Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla and a general from the risk categorisation department of the SA Police Service to Thursday’s Board of Governors meeting. No one from Safa attended the gathering.
According to Khoza, the health and police representatives came to “give insight on the new regulations” that have been gazetted by government to contain the virus.
Are Khoza and Jordaan sidestepping each other?
Khoza and Jordaan are regarded as the strongmen of South African football, but whether their decades-long animosity is real or perceived is a debate for another day.
In an interview with City Press late last year, the two leaders promised to strengthen their relationship in the new year through the Safa joint liaison committee, but if this week’s events are anything to go by, they won’t be close any time soon.
Jordaan this week gave the details as to why he couldn’t meet with Khoza, who is, ironically, his third vice-president at Safa, before the latest storm between their organisations.
“Unfortunately, he gave me a call on Wednesday to say that he had another urgent engagement,” said Jordaan.
“Already on Sunday, I indicated to him that the idea of playing behind closed doors does not work. There is no evidence in the world that it is working. Why should we try something that has already failed?
“We cannot [disagree] with Fifa, CAF and many other countries.
“Why must we be the only country that sees the danger and refuses to react? We have a responsibility, and all the matches will be postponed until April 4,” said Jordaan.
Where to from here?
The PSL Board of Governors, which comprises the 32 premier and first division clubs, resolved on Thursday that the PSL would engage in further consultations with government.
The league said it would specifically engage with the departments of health and police.
Khoza said the PSL was hoping to conclude its current season by the end of June, at the latest.
However, he highlighted that the PSL was mindful of the “existing uncertainties in our country and therefore we shall remain flexible”.
According to Khoza, a task team has already been appointed and will meet tomorrow to map the way forward.
At this point in time, said Khoza, the board “endeavours to make sure that compliance issues are complied with as a matter of urgency’.
“Thereafter, the executive committee will report to the board of governors for the league to resume.”