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Malta FA, ASA ask authorities for guidance amid a rise in COVID-19 cases

The Malta Football Association and the Aquatic Sports Association appealed to the government and the health authorities to provide specific guidance on the practice of all sport in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Health Minister Chris Fearne and Profs Charmaine Gauci, the Superintendent for Health, announced new restrictions in a bid to contain the increasing number of positive tests in Malta.

One of the restrictions that there can be no more than 15 people together and when asked how it impacts sports activity, Dr Fearne said only that each discipline had to continue to follow the medical protocol issued to them.

Last week, the ASA was forced to suspend all waterpolo competitions until August 22 after a player tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the postponement of the National League match between Birżebbuġa and San Ġiljan.

“While the health and safety of all remain the overriding priority, the Malta FA and the ASA reiterate the need for clear and coherent guidance on sports competitions, especially at elite level, to enable athletes to practise their sport while observing all applicable precautionary measures,” the joint statement said.

“These are challenging times when society needs sport more than ever for its own wellbeing, both physical and mental. The absence of exemptions that take into account the requirements of athletes at the elite level is seriously jeopardising the staging of matches and sports competitions in general.

“Eventually, this state of affairs will threaten the very existence of sports associations and in view of this, both the Malta FA and ASA urge the local authorities to be reasonable while keeping a balance between one’s health and the continuation of sporting activity.”

Both governing bodies said that applying a strict quarantine on entire squads could have a negative effect.

“Applying a strict quarantine regime on entire squads, regardless of the level of contact being traced, is preventing players from continuing with their training for 14 days, in the process hampering teams’ preparations,” the statement said.

“This will inevitably have a disruptive effect on competitions, both domestic and international. The BOV Waterpolo League is currently suspended, whereas, in football, the Malta FA competitions are scheduled to start on September 11.

“In the case of football, with international fixtures involving national teams resuming in two weeks’ time, there is an increased risk that players considered for selection to the national squad might not be available for the above-mentioned reasons.

“If this situation persists and potentially deteriorates, Malta’s participation in the upcoming UEFA Nations League could be in jeopardy, causing reputational damage to our country’s image at the international level.”

The MFA and the ASA argued that best practices from other countries have shown that the requirements of elite sport in this context have been addressed through ad-hoc legislation based on scientific evidence, affording targeted exemptions from certain restrictions such as self-isolation.

“With regard to waterpolo, the ASA has made a huge effort by staging its activities at one venue, the National Pool, as opposed to all the club premises for all our junior matches, to avoid having hundreds of players and parents/supporters going from one club to another to follow games,” the statement said.

“This was primarily done to prevent any possible unnecessary contact in a number of venues across the island, once again showing that sports associations have great respect for the recommended measures and guidelines. In this context, both the Malta FA and the ASA have been proactive by drawing up and submitting proposals to the local health authorities.

“However, our athletes and clubs keep receiving mixed messages and little guidance.”

On his part, Robert Cutajar, the PN spokesman for Sport, asked the government not to abandon the Maltese sporting organisations now that the cases of COVID-19 are again on the rise.

“In the name of the Opposition, I again appeal to the government so that he doesn’t abandon the sporting activities and the athletes now that the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing yet again,” he said.

“It was the Opposition who at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March spoke out so that this sector will not be abandoned by the government. The authorities have an obligation so that they ensure that all sporting organisations and athletes continued to be looked after.”

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