The Malta Football Association said that it was dismayed by the government’s decision not to relax its restrictions against organised sport which virtually puts to an end the local governing body’s hopes of completing the 2020-21 Premier League in time to meet with the UEFA deadlines.
The Malta FA had asked the authorities to let clubs to return to training this week so that they could resume the Premier League at the start of May and ensure the championship and the FA Trophy will be completed by the end of the month. This plan was put in place to ensure can submit the names of the teams to be involved in UEFA club competitions draws on June 8 and 15.
For the past weeks, the Malta FA has been asking the authorities to lift the current prohibition on organised sport for the elite level, namely the National Teams, the Premier Division, and the Challenge League.
With the number of positive COVID-19 cases reducing considerably in the last few weeks, there was hope that athletes who practice sport at elite level in Malta will be given the green light to resume their preparations ahead of gradual return to competitions.
However, speaking during a press conference in Castille, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that for the time being restrictions on organised sport remained in place and could lifted after April 26 should the situation continues to improve.
“It’s important that everyone remains responsible and do not break the current restrictions so that on April 26 we can look forward to reopen the restaurants, bars and the return of organised sport as well as other activities,” Dr Abela said.
“Everything will depend on how as a country we manage the lifting of restrictions.”
The decision was met with indignation by the local sporting fraternity and the Malta FA expressed its disappointment in a strong-worded statement.
“The Malta Football Association has today expressed its dismay at the Covid-related measures announced by the Government and the Public Health Authorities,” the MFA said in a statement.
“Significant efforts have been made in the past months to sustain this level of competition. This included a contact tracing system for all players and staff members which was endorsed by the Health Department.
“Over 3,500 individual assessments were made at the association’s expense and alleviating them from the public health system.
“On top of these, circa 4,000 COVID-19 tests have been conducted throughout the season. Together with the additional costs to sustain competitions in these circumstances, as well as the loss of income for the association, the financial impact suffered so far exceeds €2 million.
“These efforts have been thrown away with the decision to maintain in force the current prohibition on contact sport.”
The Malta FA said that “the total disregard of sport as a profession by decision-makers is very discouraging and undermines all the initiatives the Association is undertaking to improve the level of the game and subsequently of our national teams”.
“Despite repeated representations to the authorities, no consideration has been given to the social and economic impact such decision inflicts on the livelihood of many players, technical staff, and administrators, not to mention the economic and social benefits to the country, including the health and wellbeing aspect.”
The MFA said that the government’s decision to turn its back on the football fraternity will have an adverse effect at a technical level.
“Football in Malta, with 15,000 affiliates, is the only European country where elite sport has been banned. At the same time, data issued by the Public Health authorities has repeatedly shown that the impact of sport on the spread of COVID-19 is negligible, even when taking into account the amateur and youth levels. The Malta FA had presented a Return to Activity protocol which proved this thesis,” the MFA said.
“When the authorities engaged with the Malta FA, the latter delivered on the responsibilities conferred to it. In what can be considered as a déjà vu of last year, this prolonged ban represents a mere blanket approach which confirms that sport is still seen solely as an amateur endeavour.
“Meanwhile, the Malta FA Executive Committee will be convening as previously scheduled on Friday 9th April to discuss the matter and the impact on the domestic competitions.”