Absa Premiership

ANALYSIS | PSL's planned resumption comes at worst possible time and place

Kaizer Chiefs (TEAMtalk)
Kaizer Chiefs (TEAMtalk)
  • The PSL are seemingly intent on resuming the 2019/2020 Absa Premiership campaign in a bio-safe bubble in Gauteng as early as this weekend.
  • Gauteng has emerged as the epicentre of Covid-19 cases as South Africa fast approaches its peak in the number of daily infections.
  • Despite SAFA being given an "overarching" role in resuming competitive matches, the PSL have made a number of unilateral decisions to push ahead for a return to play.

The Premier Soccer League (PSL) on Monday confirmed that Gauteng will act as the bio-safe environment to host the resumption of the 2019/2020 Absa Premiership campaign.

It is a decision that has raised eyebrows. 

PSL chairperson Irvin Khoza confirmed that Gauteng beat out KwaZulu-Natal and a strong bid from the North West province to be the only candidate remaining to host the return of competitive matches.

In a letter addressed to SAFA, acting PSL CEO Mata Madlala had detailed that the PSL was pushing for an imminent return with a proposed date of 18 July - this weekend. 

Also included in the communication was selected venues to serve as training facilities and to host competitive matches that will include Nedbank Cup fixtures.

Training venues are: Marks Park, Wanderers, St Stithians, Fourways High, Johannesburg Stadium, Ruimsig Stadium, Auckland Park Bunting (UJ), Chris Hani Stadium (UJ), Loftus Versfeld, the University of Pretoria, Pilditch Stadium, TUT Stadium, Germiston Stadium and Vosloorus Stadium.

Match venues are: FNB Stadium, Orlando Stadium, Dobsonville Stadium, Rand Stadium, Makhulong Stadium, Ellis Park, Bidvest Stadium, Loftus Versfeld, Lucas Moripe Stadium, University of Pretoria and Tsakane Stadium.

According to statistics from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) South Africa in the past 24 hours, dated 13 July, recorded 12 058 new Covid-19 cases with 108 new deaths.

Out of a total of 276 242 confirmed cases, Gauteng has recently emerged as the epicentre with 98 431 cases.

As South Africa enters its coronavirus peak, this means that the PSL is planning to stage matches at the worst possible time and in the worst place if Covid-19 risk factors are considered as the barometer.

SAFA and its acting CEO Tebogo Motlanthe, meanwhile, have staunchly criticised the PSL's unilateral decision to push for a 18 July return date despite SAFA being instructed by government to play an "overarching" role in the return of play.

Sport24 understands that SAFA were talks with the PSL late into Monday night to find an agreement to a proposed fixture list. 

The country's controlling football body has on several occasions raised concerns regarding the PSL's adherence to the safety protocols in an effort to return to play.

From the outside looking in, it seems as though the PSL has merely drawn up a decisive safety protocol guideline - named the NSL Directive on Return to Training - to get the green-light from government.

There now seems to be a reluctance or an inability by PSL teams to fully comply with these safety protocols.

From the outset the PSL and SAFA have been at loggerheads regarding when and how to resume the 2019/2020 season.

A power struggle between the two parties threatened to bubble to the surface and it needed Minister of Arts, Culture and Sports, Nathi Mthethwa to make clear that SAFA were the controlling body in the matter.

Since it was made clear who was in charge, all club appointed compliance officers were to report to SAFA's head of compliance Dr Thulani Ngwenya to ensure clubs were adhering to protocol.

As if in a game of chess between the two, the PSL next sought to unilaterally inform SAFA of its intention to announce 18 July as a resumption date with Gauteng as host. Check.

There was little to no time for allocated compliance officers to travel to all the 32 PSL teams to compile a report regarding the adherence of teams to protocols.

SAFA's counter move was to threaten to not provide match officials - who are controlled by the governing body - for the return of competitive matches.

With no referees, no games can be held. Check mate?

This has now caused PSL chairperson Irvin Khoza to backtrack somewhat and look to distance the PSL from the proposed 18 July return date by making clear that they had never officially announced a date.

Khoza has also confirmed that they were locked in a meeting on Monday with SAFA compliance officers in an attempt to reach an agreement to verify the proposed fixture schedule list.

The overriding motivation for the PSL to bulldoze towards a return date is financially driven.

When reached for comment Ngwenya told Sport24 that they have started the process of verifying the compliance of PSL teams. They have not yet finalised full compliance, but were making "good progress".

Many clubs have been heavily impacted by the financial shortfall of not staging any live matches. As much as 70% of the 16 Absa Premiership sides would struggle to survive.

The PSL monthly grant of R2.5 million that each club receives in TV money from rights holder SuperSport also came to an end on 30 June. There is, as a result, a desperation to resume live action.

Perhaps it is this desperation that has led to the PSL attempting to sweep Covid-19 test results under the carpet with reports circulating of high counts of positive test results from within teams.

This goes against competition integrity and transparency as there is no requirement by the media to reveal identities, with an emphasis placed only on test numbers.

So far, Kaizer ChiefsBloemfontein CelticOrlando Pirates and Stellenbosch FC have all confirmed positive Covid-19 results - with seven cases in total from players and staff.

Cape Town City are the only side to have announced their test results - with zero positive cases - with no other announcements despite all PSL teams having returned to contact training.

With these latest developments, the PSL's resumption still has more questions than answers.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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