OPINION | PSL needs to stand firm on coronavirus but remains ambiguous

20 March 2020 - 14:56 By Marc Strydom
Irvin Khoza, chairman of the PSL, and other decision-makers involved in the league appear to be in limbo around this season's games and training amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Irvin Khoza, chairman of the PSL, and other decision-makers involved in the league appear to be in limbo around this season's games and training amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

At a time when decisive action is needed, the reaction by the Premier Soccer League (PSL) to the coronavirus outbreak in SA appears dangerously ambiguous.

More than 200 people in SA have now been diagnosed with Covid-19, the government announced on Friday, a week after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of national disaster.

The league announced on Thursday, after a six-hour meeting of its board of governors at the Southern Sun OR Tambo, that the Absa Premiership and GladAfrica Championship first- and second-tier leagues remained suspended.

The PSL had been briefed by the national departments of health, and safety and security.

It could not, however, give a timeline for the suspension. Therefore the league effectively remains in limbo — a view supported by its statement that it would establish a task team to work with the executive committee to “take all possible measures for the league to resume” in compliance with government directives.

What the PSL has done is to buy itself time — after this week’s matches were already suspended, and over the coming Fifa break — to keep looking for ways to play behind closed doors for the next round of matches, due on the weekend of April 4.

After the board meeting, PSL chairman Irvin Khoza read a prepared statement that was vague about the league’s intentions regarding the suspension of matches, but conveyed its intent to resume football despite the global pandemic.

“Because of the magnitude and the seriousness of the matter, the board of governors resolved today that the PSL values the lives of our people. We view the health and safety of our players, staff and stakeholders as paramount,” said Khoza.

“For us, while our intention is to complete the season by no later than June 30, because of the existing uncertainties in our country we shall remain flexible.

“The [board] has mandated the executive committee and appointed a task team to deal with the issue in the regulations to make sure we align them with all the necessary compliance. Thereafter the executive committee will make sure a decision is taken with the board of governors — by round robin or urgent meeting — to move ahead.”

A statement the PSL released later deviated slightly from what Khoza said, stating the league would “take all possible measures to ensure the PSL’s leagues resume in compliance with the directives issued by the state president with the support and alignment of the national government”.

Asked if the April 4 matches would continue, Khoza replied: “We don’t know that the league will resume on April 4. But for now, insofar as we are doing, we want to understand the regulations and comply because we are dealing with human lives. The clubs are exposed to consequences if we don’t take the necessary steps. That’s why we are working in conjunction with the department of health.”

While the league is in limbo, PSL clubs also remain unclear on whether to suspend training, where the coronavirus could surely spread as easily as during matches played behind closed doors.

Baroka FC, for example, said they would suspend training until this weekend, then resume next week.

It's hard to see how the lack of a clear directive to suspend matches for a definitive period, for later review, and to halt training sessions complies with Ramaphosa’s request for South Africans to practise social distancing.

The South African Football Association (Safa) has declared football suspended until April 4, with a review to follow on that date.

Safa has stressed international precedent has not shown that playing matches behind closes doors slows the spread of the coronavirus.