THE prospects of domestic football being played this year keep fading by the day after ZIFA and Premier Soccer League medical committee yesterday gave a grim report on the chances of the game getting underway amid the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The PSL had provisionally set August/September for a possible start after the season failed to kick-off, as scheduled in March, because of the coronavirus outbreak.
However, the medical committee chaired by renowned doctor, Edward Chagonda, yesterday met PSL chief executive Kenny Ndebele and delivered a report which emphasised on strict adherence to the health guidelines as proposed by Government, FIFA, CAF and World Health Organisation.
Apart from the grim outlook on the ground, where football remains blacklisted as a high-risk sport, Chagonda revealed his committee, which was tasked with the duty to chat the way forward towards the safe return of football, recommended PCR tests, which cost US$65 per test kit.
This would mean a PSL club, with 30 players and about 10 officials, would need roughly US$10 400 a minimum, every week, for Covid-19 tests only.
“We have sent a document to the Premier Soccer League and I think the teams will need to sit down and see what they can do,” said Chagonda.
His team of doctors were assigned to draw up protocols, and procedures to be followed by clubs, for the safe return of football activity after the Covid-19 lockdown.
Although the full document is still to be made public, the former Warriors doctor painted a gloomy picture because of the huge costs involved.
“The Medical Committee has recommended, among other things, the need to test players and officials and we have taken the bare minimum of once every week because the tests are a bit on the expensive side,’’ he said.
“From a medical perspective, health and safety are first, before anything else. So, these tests are mandatory and, of course, if we don’t do these tests we could be sued.
“So, we have recommended PCR test which costs not less than US$65 per test.
“PCR directly detect the presence of an antigen, rather than the presence of the body’s immune response, or antibodies, and is therefore more effective in telling early if someone has the disease or not.
“In UK, and other European countries where football has resumed, they are doing these tests twice or thrice per week to minimise chances of making mistakes.
“They have more Covid-19 cases in their countries compared to us but they can afford the tests and all the prescribed health protocol, the same with our neighbours South Africa.
“So, it will all depend on whether the local clubs will afford but, in our case, I think we are in a bit of a Catch-22 situation because we largely depend on gate-takings and, to make matters worse, supporters will not be allowed in.
“We had proposed to work with August but, with the way things are shaping up on the ground, with more cases being detected nationwide, it may not be possible.’’
The same document is expected to be presented to the ZIFA Competitions committee tomorrow.
From there, ZIFA will also have a chance to deliberate, during their board meeting, before sending the recommendations to the Sports and Recreation Commission and the Ministry of Health.
ZIFA president, Felton Kamambo, told The Herald they were not yet sure about the way forward since football has been classified as high-risk sport.
The lockdown rules are still in force and it is very unlikely they will be lifted soon following the continued surge in numbers of positive cases which surpassed 600 this week.
The prospect of playing football, behind closed doors, does not make business sense in Zimbabwe where there is neither strong sponsorship to sustain the teams nor television to broadcast the games.
The pandemic is still a big threat on the continent and CAF have since postponed the 2021 AFCON and 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
Kamambo said ZIFA will be guided by the guidelines from the medical experts.
“We can only know after the weekend meeting because the doctors, and the competitions guys, are scheduled to meet and chat the way forward,’’ he said.
“The CAF document should give us the guidelines and we have to come up with our own guidelines, which suit our situation as Zimbabwe.
“Obviously, as an association, we have to comply with all the health guidelines put forward by the health experts.
“The tricky part is that we may decide that we can start playing but Government may still say football is a high-risk sport. As you know all high-risk sports are still banned by the Government, so it’s not really in our hands.
“Every affiliate will be assisted, at a certain stage, but what I cannot say now is by how much. That can only be known after the board meeting (tomorrow).’’
In the event the entire football season is scrapped, it’s not yet clear what will happen to the contracts which will end this year.
Given clubs have been paying their players, and coaches, since the start of the year, the teams can declare they are being given a raw deal since their employees are not satisfying their contractual obligations.