The new Premier Soccer League (PSL) season is set to kick off next month and yet the vast, empty stands in stadiums will symbolise how the sport continues to be disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
SAFA’s Chief Medical Officer has revealed that the governing body is looking at various measures to facilitate the safe return of supporters to stadia but warns that the risks are real.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing and the 2020/21 campaign due to start in October, Ngwenya told the South African Football Journalist’s Association (Safja) that talks are underway for the partial re-opening of stadiums.
The country moved to level 1 as of midnight last Sunday, but President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that existing restrictions on sporting events remain in place, which means that football spectators are still prohibited from attending football matches at stadiums despite the masses being allowed to go to malls, restaurants, bars, attend ceremonies, as well as travel.
Dr Ngwenya is of the opinion that football is not football without the fans as gate-takings are imperative for clubs with many benefits for the government and the economy as hotels and the transport sector generate revenue as fans coming from various provinces attend matches and more job opportunities (security and vendors) are created at stadiums.
“When the team is down the fans play a psychological role in lifting up the team and that goes a long way as a person that played amateur football, I also appreciate that,” said Ngwenya.
“We need to find a way of getting some fans into the stadium but in terms of when I am not sure, we are putting protocols together and I believe it can be done. Medically it can be done but logically I’m not sure if it’s going to be viable and it won’t create stampedes and stuff.”
However, the SAFA doctor admits that even allowing at least 50% of the spectators at football matches could cause problems.
“Say now we’ve got FNB stadium with its capacity and we have 20 thousand people that we allow to come to the stadium, then we will have another risk of people who really want to go to the stadium. That’s when you will have fake tickets but when they get to the stadium they will be stopped,” he added.
“Then it will create another commotion outside the stadium and people would want to push themselves in because you cannot see a fake from a distance, and you can only pick it up when it’s scanned. So that is when it becomes a logistical matter. But medically, with fewer people, it can be done.”
“I feel that when they are at the stadium we can find the way of controlling them but again people coming into the stadium and they want to sing and hug,” concluded Dr Ngwenya.
By Tokelo Martin Mokhesi