War of words as SA ponder football league restart

A possible return to football action in South Africa will be determined by both Safa and the PSL. Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa has instructed the two warring bodies to find mutual ground on the way forward for the sport. Despite previously holding differing positions on the matter, Safa President Danny Jordaan, says football's mother bodies are working together. Courtesy #DStv403

JOHANNESBURG - A war of words has broken out among rival South African football organisations ahead of a meeting Thursday to discuss the future of the 2019/2020 league season.

The novel coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension during March of the richest African national championship with a R15-million first prize.

The meeting will involve league officials, who are keen to complete a season in which the 16 clubs have between six and nine fixtures to fulfill.

Premier Soccer League chairman Irvin Khoza says they hope to complete the season by July 31, provided they get the go-ahead from government health officials.

"There are two conditions we have to meet before considering restarting the league - first and foremost saving lives, then preserving livelihoods by playing football," he said.

Asked if he had contacted the South African Football Association (Safa), the supreme football body in the republic regarding a restart, Khoza replied: "No, not as yet."

There is a history of disagreements between the wealthy, efficiently run PSL and the cash-strapped Safa, whose officials regularly create negative headlines.

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Among options the Premiership is reportedly considering is playing several matches on the same day behind closed doors at neutral venues.

However, the Danny Jordaan-led Safa say medical experts believe football should resume only when the national lockdown reaches stage one.

The five-stage lockdown is currently at level four (the second-highest) and it could take many months to drop to the lowest level given the virus peak is expected only in September.

 'Cannot social distance' 

"Playing football requires travelling, including from one province to another, and that cannot be achieved under level four," a Safa statement said.

"Another issue is the social distancing factor - football is a contact sport where we cannot social distance."

Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa has requested the PSL and Safa to present him with a plan that health officials can consider.

"We will be dependent on Safa, as the mother body of football in the country, and the PSL to guide government," he said.

"I have been in contact with Danny Jordaan and Irvin Khoza and said to them that I need their wise counsel regarding a possible reopening of the league."

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Football followers hope the Premiership can resume soon as the stage is set for thrilling finishes to the season both at the top and bottom of the table.

Kaizer Chiefs, who have gone a record four seasons without winning a trophy, lead defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns by four points, but have played one match more.

Among the remaining fixtures is a clash between the clubs at Chiefs' ground, the 90,000-capacity Soccer City stadium on the border between Johannesburg and Soweto.

Only eight points separate the lowest eight clubs with the team finishing last automatically relegated and the second-last side going into play-offs with two second-tier outfits.

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