The Malta Football Association announced that the Premier League and the Challenge League will be delayed by a week due to the disruptions caused to the clubs by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision was taken during an Executive Committee meeting held on Wednesday afternoon which, as reported by the Times of Malta, was due to discuss the current situation.
The MFA EXCO put the start of the top two divisions on the agenda after Premier League clubs Balzan and Birkirkara as well as Challenge League teams Vittoriosa Stars and Pietà Hotspurs, sent a letter to the governing body requesting that commencement dates of the 2020/21 leagues be rescheduled as their preparations for the new season have been disrupted by COVID-19 issues.
The BOV Premier League was due to start on September 11.
“The Executive Committee decided to reschedule the target start dates of the top two championships with the BOV Premier League due to get underway on 19 September, 25 days from today which, according to medical advice, is sufficient for the clubs to have their players physically fit for Matchday 1,” the Malta FA said in a statement.
“The Executive Committee of the Malta FA today approved the updated COVID-19 health and operational protocol for the 2020/21 BOV Premier League and BOV Challenge League. Subject to the approval of the Malta FA protocol by the Public Health Authorities, the BOV Premier League is now earmarked to kick off on the weekend of September 19-21, 2020, a week later than originally scheduled, and the BOV Challenge League is due to commence the following weekend – September 25-27.”
The MFA said that the updated protocol is modeled on the initial document submitted to the local health authorities in March.
“It has been further enhanced, based on current medical advice, the UEFA Return to Play Protocol, which is being implemented for both the UEFA club competitions and the national teams’ commitments, other medical protocols as well as best practices from other countries,” the statement said.
“The protocol, which has been presented to the Public Health Authorities following further discussions with Superintendent of Health, Professor Charmaine Gauci, delves into several aspects, in terms of prevention through regular testing, both out-of-competition and in-competition, medical and sanitary measures, and regulatory matters.”
Bjorn Vassallo, the Malta FA president, reiterated the association’s call for the authorities to recognise the specificity of sports and the need to minimise the risk of disruption on sporting activity, the statement said.
While the COVID-19 situation is fluid, Vassallo said the association remains fully committed to a pro-active approach by evaluating all scenarios and devising plans accordingly.
In accordance with the Malta FA protocol, clubs have been requested to appoint a COVID Liaison Officer who must provide regular updates on the health situation of their club squads, at least twice of week.
Dr Kirill Micallef Stafrace, the Malta FA’s Medical Director, explained the main medical points of the protocol. The key medical proposals include:
Testing of a representative sample of clubs’ players and staff on a regular basis
Management of positive cases – individual isolates and close contacts to quarantine for seven days
Hygiene principles – stadium zoning, limited use of dressing rooms, matches behind closed doors, social distancing and use of masks at all times, except on pitch, and regulated timing of matches
The Malta FA is in the process of preparing a different protocol for amateur (including women’s competitions) and grassroots football, based on the needs and realities of these categories. The BOV National Amateur League is scheduled to kick off in October.
In the meantime, the Malta FA has invested in the installation of remote video cameras at the National Stadium, Centenary Stadium, Hibernians Stadium and Victor Tedesco Stadium, to livestream the competitive matches played at these venues, in addition to the matches broadcast live on the TSN and TVM2 channels.