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Athletes are facing too many logistical problems to gain quarantine exemption – MFA

MFA had to organise chartered flight to bring women’s team home from Bosnia

Athletes who are representing Malta at elite international events are facing too many logistical problems due to the Maltese Public Health Authorities’ stringent approach on issuing quarantine exemption, the Malta Football Association (MFA) told the Times of Malta.

The local governing body was reacting to recent events which have seen the Malta women’s football national team forced to make last-minute changes on their travel arrangements to avoid a 14-day quarantine on return from their World Cup qualifier in Bosnia.

Earlier this week, the Malta Weightlifting Association contingent that took part in the IWF World and Commonwealth Championships in Tashkent were informed that they would have to quarantine for 14 days during the Christmas period despite the fact that they were previously given an exemption by the Health Authorities.

In questions sent to the Malta FA, who had suffered a similar fate with its women’s national team, the local governing body of football said that they were informed by the Health Authorities that they would not be given an exemption unless the team would return home with a chartered flight.

“Following exemptions granted to various football teams travelling or returning from dark red countries (both Malta national teams as well as respective opponents) in September and

October (including Russia vs Malta of both male and female National A Teams), the Malta Women’s National Team was not granted an exemption from quarantine by the Public Health Department for their November FIFA World Cup Qualifier match in Bosnia and Herzegovina unless the team returned by charter flight,” the Malta FA said.

“Only in this way would an exemption be given to avoid obliging the contingent to quarantine for 14 days on return from Bosnia, a dark red-listed country.”

Asked if any specific reason was given to them from the Public Health from their decision of not issuing an exemption, the Malta FA said that authorities feared a backlash from the media should the exemption been granted.

“In an official reply to the original request by the Association for the granting of an exemption, Public Health Authorities referred to the fact that there was a media uproar when the Maltese female national football team travelled to Russia which was also a dark red country at the time (match played on October 21, 2021),” the Malta FA said.

“This, according to the Public Health Authorities, ‘caused

significant unrest (sic) in people who for one reason or another needed to travel to a dark red country but could not because of the travel ban’.

“The Association believes that the initial non-issuance of the exemption was related to this earlier episode referred to by the Public Health Department in their reply to the Malta FA’s request.

“Unfortunately, this led the same authority to take no risks due to fears of reactions in the media that would influence public opinion should the exemption be granted. There was never a medical risk but a PR safeguard. 

“To be clear, Legal Notice 93/2021 empowers the Superintendent of Public Health to grant such exemptions to national Maltese sport teams competing in international  competitions.”

The MFA said that it had no option but to enter into additional travelling costs to bring the Maltese contingent back home on the same day of the match, even though commercial flight tickets had already been bought.

“The Malta FA had to organise a chartered flight for the Malta women’s national team on the very same day of the match in Bosnia Herzegovina to avoid exposing the contingent to a 

14-day quarantine period upon their return, even though commercial flight tickets had already been purchased for all of the delegation,” the MFA said.

UEFA protocol

“To clarify, the team had travelled on commercial flights to Bosnia since the impression was that the exemption would be given even if at a later stage (as was normal on previous occasions).

“The UEFA ‘Return to Play Protocol’ (last amended in September 2021) states clearly that national football teams do not need to travel by charter anymore.

“This due to the huge costs incurred when travelling by charter and based on the understanding between national associations that all countries hosting elite football events should grant the necessary exemptions for the international competitions to remain sustainable.”

The Malta FA said that the Health Authorities should show more sensitivity towards the elite athletes when taking such decisions as such rulings are creating unnecessary anxiety. The MFA emphasised that athletes should be given the support needed not the other way round.

“Athletes and technical staff representing Malta in international competitions are facing additional logistical challenges at a time when they would need to focus on the sporting event,” the MFA said.

“Apart from the financial burden, which is significant, such issues trigger additional anxiety. At such elite level, athletes should be given the needed support not the other way round.

“In order to support its Women’s National Team, and in appreciation of the efforts made throughout an intensive 10-day international window – and despite having already booked commercial flights and a further one night stay in a hotel – the Malta FA decided to lease an aircraft and bring back the whole contingent to Malta directly and by so doing obtain the exemption.

“This is despite the team having to depart from a different airport, adding a two and a half hour drive. 

“This requirement has meant thousands of euros in extra non-budgeted costs which could have been spent very much better on other projects which the association has in the development of football.

“Athletes representing our country deserve better.

“None of this should be seen as in any way lacking consideration of others in need when it comes to travelling rights and obligations during the pandemic.

“What the Association has asked for during these challenging times is nothing more than what is already allowed and provided for in legislation.

“Whilst in most cases, the

necessary exemptions had been issued, each international commitment remains conditioned by a constant sense of uncertainty as to whether and how the necessary travel arrangements should be made.”

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