Situation also threatening to undermine the progress of the national team
The Legal Notice prohibiting organised sports events is due to expire in just a week’s time but the uncertainty surrounding the restart of local football competitions lingers on.
The Malta Football Association has been engaged in discussions with the Health Authorities and internally with clubs and other stakeholders about the current situation.
Bjorn Vassallo, the MFA president, is convinced that the elite football competitions, namely the BOV Premier League and the BOV Challenge League, and the senior women’s league, should continue after April 11.
The association has already submitted a proposal to the Health Authorities on the gradual and staggered return to training by the clubs competing in these leagues.
Contacted by The Sunday Times of Malta, Vassallo highlighted several reasons why elite football should continue, insisting that Malta is the only country in Europe where football has stopped due to recent COVID-19 restrictions, a situation that also threatens to disrupt the work and progress shown by the national team in the last six months.
“Unlike other European countries where elite football has not been impacted by the pandemic, football, and all sports for that matter, has been stopped in Malta,” Vassallo said.
“When talking about the restart of football competitions, one has to make a clear distinction between elite and amateur football. Elite football encompasses the professional and semi-professional levels, and we are proposing the continuation of these competitions only.”
There are 16 clubs in the 2020-21 BOV Premier League and 15 in the Challenge League with Vassallo emphasising that the total amount of people between footballers and technical staff involved in the potential resumption of training and competitions is very limited, hence the risks are minimal.
“It is also pertinent to point out that teams will require three weeks of training prior to the restart of the competitions which are earmarked to resume towards the end of April and the beginning of May,” Vassallo added.
“During the season, we have shown that, even in these difficult circumstances, the competitions are sustainable thanks to the rigorous implementation of the Return to Play Protocols which are very thorough while statistics show that the transmission of the virus from football to society in terms of clusters was negligible.
“This has also been confirmed by the figures published by the Health Authorities during the weekly bulletins by the Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci whereby the rate of transmission from sports always ranked last.”
The implementation of the protocols and hygiene and sanitisation measures together with the COVID-19 testing programme necessitated a significant expenditure from the MFA exceeding €200,000.
Vassallo said that this financial and logistical commitment by the association and the clubs would count for nothing if the elite football competitions cannot resume.
“The MFA has lived up to its responsibilities and delivered in these difficult circumstances for everyone,” Vassallo said.
“If the competitions do not resume, football will be penalised.”
Return to training proposal
“The MFA has presented a very sensible and balanced proposal for the gradual return of training,” Vassallo said.
“We are proposing that Premier League clubs be allowed to resume training from Monday, the Challenge League clubs from April 12 and the Women’s League teams a week later (April 19).
“The aim is to have a staggered return to training with all the necessary protocols and health and safety measures in place, leading up to the restart of the elite (professional) competitions in the first week of May.”
Vassallo also shares national coach Devis Mangia’s concerns about the impact the prolonged suspension of domestic football competitions will have on the national teams’ preparations for their forthcoming international commitments.
“The national teams’ situation is also a concern,” Vassallo replied when asked to comment about Mangia’s repeated appeals for domestic football to continue.
“All the good work carried out in the last months and the progress shown by the national team will be seriously undermined if domestic football remains on hold.
“There is a palpable risk of facing the same difficulties we met last year in terms of our players not being in the best physical and psychological condition for the World Cup qualifiers in September due to a lack of preparation and match fitness.
“The physiology of an athlete is not something that you just turn on the switch and you are immediately ready for competition. There has to be a progression in the level of competitive activity.
“If we are unable to complete the domestic competitions, the national team risks heading into the June international window in a below-par condition, a situation that would also hamper the preparations of our clubs for their European commitments as well as the national team’s build-up for the September matches.
“All the efforts and ongoing projects aimed at improving the level of our national teams and with that the image of Malta in international football are being adversely affected by this situation.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Vassallo stressed that sport is essential for the physical and mental well-being of our society, especially during times of pandemic.