Maltese football fans were left seething after the government and the health authorities have again omitted attendance at sporting events in their latest round of COVID-19 relaxation measures, in what they described as another clear sign of how sport in Malta is not given the importance it deserves.
On Friday, Health Minister Chris Fearne, Jose Herrera, the Minister for Culture, and Charmaine Gauci, the Superintendent for Health, on Friday announced that seated mass events will resume on July 5 for those who are fully vaccinated, with entry only allowed to those possessing a vaccine certificate.
Cultural events will have their capacity capped at 100 people at first, going up gradually to 200 over the course of 4 weeks. Events can be held both indoors and outdoors but must be held in enclosed areas that allow organisers to control people’s entry and exit.
Dr Fearne said that the authorities wanted social and cultural life to “slowly resume in our towns and villages”, citing examples of social club events, auctions, and conferences. However, there was no mention of the reopening of stadia or sports venues for fans to watch their favourite sport.
The Times of Malta made contact with the Health Authorities to check whether the new directives could be used in sporting events or whether new guidelines for the return of fans were in the pipeline.
However, our questions remained unanswered and the spokesman said that the guidelines were to be followed for the events mentioned in the briefing.
It was inevitable that Maltese sporting fans reacted angrily that once more the sporting sector was ignored, despite the fact that the latest guidelines issued for cultural events could be easily used in all sporting venues in Malta and Gozo.
Dillon Mercieca, the head of the South End Core, the national teams official supporters club, said that the latest news briefing reconfirmed the huge discrimination that currently exists against those who love sport and whose hobby is to follow their favourite team or their children who practise competitive sport.
“The situation has become very frustrating for all sporting fans in Malta and Gozo,” Mercieca said.
“Although the football season has already been terminated, in three weeks’ time Maltese clubs will compete in UEFA club competitions and will have matches played here in Malta and at the moment they cannot have the support of their fans.
“I cannot understand why authorities are permitting cultural events in July with the newly-set protocols and football stadiums are remaining closed. These are venues where the entry and exit of fans can be easily controlled and fans can be seated four square metres away from each other, so it’s hard to understand while fans are kept out.
“If we take the national stadium, that has a capacity of 17,000 fans, it’s not being permitted that up to 200 fans attend matches. So it’s clear that not even for the upcoming World Cup home qualifier, between Malta and Cyprus, scheduled for September 1, fans will be permitted to attend the match.”
Mercieca said it’s frustrating that both political parties have failed to take any action on the subject.
“We feel that we have been abandoned by both political parties and the health authorities,” he said.
“Sporting fans in Malta have been treated like third-world countries. In other countries, who have a R-Factor of 1.5 and 2 have reopened for the return of fans and here in Malta, where we boast to be the best in Europe and the world we are keeping our sporting venues closed.
“The authorities have truly killed competitive sport in Malta with their decisions.”
On his part, Marlon Galea, team manager of Gżira United FC, said that the attitude of the authorities towards sport vis-a-vis COVID-19 reflects the importance they give to sport in Malta and Gozo.
“This mentality has existed in Malta for several years,” Galea said.
“I cannot understand while a market is open for the public, church activities are attended by people, you have bars and restaurants open, now there are also controlled mass events but a football stadium, where you have controlled entry and exit of fans, is not even considered or mentioned.
“Next month, Gżira United will compete in the UEFA Europa Conference League to represent Malta and we feel that even if we have only 200 fans present for the match will help the players on the pitch.
“Surely, the Maltese public deserves better. If in Europe football grounds have reopened for fans why in Malta they have been kept closed despite the fact that our R-Factor is much lower than other countries?”