Absa Premiership

OPINION | Keeping Covid-19 results secret will undermine integrity of PSL

Irvin Khoza (Gallo Images)
Irvin Khoza (Gallo Images)

To safely resume the 2019/2020 season as South Africa faces the unprecedented threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, specific safety measures need to be guaranteed by both the Premier Soccer League (PSL) and South African Football Association (SAFA).

As seen so far in European leagues such as the Bundesliga, Serie A and Premier League one of the most important of these safety measures is regular testing.

The government gave the go-ahead on 24 June for the PSL to resume while saying that the protocols submitted in an NSL directive on return to training went beyond their minimum safety requirements.

So far in the PSL and the second tier combined Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs, Bloemfontein Celtic, Stellenbosch FC, TS Galaxy and Swallows FC have all reported positive Covid-19 cases in recent days.

That's 13 positive cases coming from just the six clubs - from the Absa Premiership and GladAfrica Championship - who had undergone testing on 17-19 June with other teams set to follow.

As a comparison, in the Premier League's Round 1 of testing, it announced 748 tests were performed, with six positive tests from three clubs.

Ahead of the other PSL teams undergoing testing, many were non-committal on whether they would be making their results public when speaking to Sport24 and cited being stigmatised against as a reason.

If not disclosing Covid-19 test results becomes a trend within the PSL, the integrity of the entire testing process will be jeopardised.

As testing is critical to being able to resume the season safely, not only will the process of testing be in jeopardy, but the PSL's entire safety protocol could then also be called into question.

By 28 June, 138 134 cases of Covid-19 infection had been recorded with 2 456 deaths in South Africa with health minister Zweli Mkhize warning that "the worst is yet to come".

The pandemic - which is a matter of life and death - is too important of an issue to be swept under a carpet with a "return at all costs attitude" seemingly taken to see the resumption of top-flight football.

New cases continue to surge nationally with South Africa experiencing an alarming upward curve in new infections and deaths with a peak predicted for September.

Clubs have between six and nine fixtures to fulfil in the 30-round season with reports suggesting a mid-July resumption, within this peak in infections.

READ | PSL return: Safety protocols could prove challenging for smaller clubs

As stipulated, players are required to undergo two rounds of testing before resuming training with a third round of testing taking place ahead of travelling to a bio-safe environment where the remaining PSL matches will be staged.

The English Premier League seek to regularly announce the results of each testing round with results publicly announced.

A Premier League statement says: "The Premier League is providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided by the League and results will be made public after each round of testing."

The most important wording to take out of this statement is 'competition integrity' and 'transparency'.

Not making the results public leaves room for cutting corners or even worse, player's lives being needlessly put at risk by being coerced into resuming training while being unsure of their personal safety.

Since the suspension of the Absa Premiership, it is understandable that Irvin Khoza and the rest of the league would want a return to action as soon as safely possible with the financial sustainability of clubs dependent on TV money.

The question as to why the PSL wouldn't want testing results being made public, though, suggests that the league fears being vulnerable to calls for the season to be cancelled if a high number of positive results were reported.

This could be why the PSL is looking to keep results quiet and is exactly the reason why there should be calls for transparency.

Testing identifies the number of infections and, as a result, reveals how safe it is for teams to return to training. Competitive matches should then only be allowed to return when safe to do so.

Clubs such as Maritzburg United have already made known that implementing the Covid-19 safety measures is proving expensive with Polokwane City head coach Clinton Larsen claiming that smaller teams would also struggle.

Even with players' salaries and the existence of clubs on the line, the lives of players cannot be risked for entertainment or for financial reasons.

In no way, or in any situation, is money more important than an individual's life.

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