How the bio-bubble ‘saved football’ in South Africa

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Support staff disinfect the ball before a PSL match earlier this year. Picture: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix
Support staff disinfect the ball before a PSL match earlier this year. Picture: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix

SPORT


“The bio-bubble saved professional football in the country,” were the striking words of PSL lawyer Michael Murphy.

Back in July, Murphy was given his biggest task yet at the organisation as he took off his legal hat and assumed the all-important role of compliance officer.

He is still in awe of how his organisation was able to complete the 2019/20 PSL season in the biologically safe environment, a set-up otherwise known as the bio-bubble.

The PSL’s 32 clubs – across the premier and first divisions – were in the bio-bubble from August 6 to September 27 to complete the season that had been on hold since March, when the country first went into lockdown.

The league completed 113 games during that period, including the Nedbank Cup final, as well as the promotional play-offs.

UNBURSTABLE BUBBLE

On August 19, City Press took a peep at the bio-bubble on the Wits University campus.

That day, there were three fixtures being played there: SuperSport United were up against Polokwane City in a premiership encounter at the Bidvest Stadium, while two GladAfrica Championship matches were taking place nearby.

Read: Peeping through PSL bio-bubble keyhole

TS Galaxy and Cape Umoya United were at the Wits Rugby Grounds and Free State Stars hosted Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila at Sturrock Park.

Almost immediately on our arrival at the campus, security officers approached us to question our presence.

PSL legal eagle Michael Murphy. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix

The stadiums, which are usually welcoming to the public, became no-go areas.

“It was a concerted effort for everyone involved. Credit must go to the PSL leadership led by the chairperson [Irvin Khoza], CEO Mato Madlala and the executive committee,” said Murphy.

“We left no stone unturned in ensuring that the bio-bubble was a success. All the clubs had to comply and ensure that no fans or media could enter the stadiums.”

CLUB’S RESOURCES STRETCHED

Prior to entering the bio-bubble, clubs had to comply with strict regulations, including testing players for Covid-19, regular hand-sanitising, appointing a compliance and health officer, as well as paying for their hotel stay for the duration of the bio-bubble.

We did have some hiccups along the way, but these were to be expected, because this was something new for everyone.
PSL lawyer Michael Murphy

The exercise cost clubs between R800 000 and R1.2 million, with expenses exacerbated by hotel bookings.

The now relegated GladAfrica Championship campaigners Royal Eagles were almost disqualified from the bio-bubble due to steep testing expenses, in addition to the club’s late return to training after government had given permission for football to resume.

“There was no instance of anyone trying not to comply. People make mistakes, but they were all exceptional,” said Murphy.

“We did have some hiccups along the way, but these were to be expected, because this was something new for everyone. It was an incredible feat to pull off. The requirements they had to meet were exceptional.

“What stands out for me is how the clubs all pulled together and made it work. I’ll never forget the massive effort they put in.”

"People don’t realise the amount of effort the PSL, the clubs and players had to put in to pull it off." Michael Murphy

OTHER ROLE-PLAYERS

When Khoza announced that Murphy was the compliance officer for the league during a live press conference in July, there was confusion about who ultimately had authority: him or Safa’s own compliance officer, Thulani Ngwenya.

Murphy said every role-player deserved credit for ensuring that the matches were held without hitches.

“I was the compliance officer because there were rules set by government and, as a lawyer, I needed to know them. People don’t realise the amount of effort the PSL, the clubs and the players had to put in to accomplish this.

“I checked that they complied, together with Lervasen Pillay, but the clubs did everything they were supposed to do: they were the heroes.”

Pillay, a sports physician, was part of the PSL task team who later collaborated with Safa through the joint liaison committee.


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Gomolemo Motshwane  

Sport journalist

+27 11 713 9001
gomolemo.motshwane@citypress.co.za
www.citypress.co.za
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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