Friday, September 24, 2021

Safe return to football – Is the BFA operating in an alternate reality?

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary (webster.com) the Middle English word ‘bubble’ that is most familiar as a name for a tiny, round ball of air or gas inside a liquid is still expanding, semantically, in Modern English.

It states that about mid-20th century, the word came to designate an inflatable, dome-shaped structure that is used to cover such things as swimming pools, tennis courts, soccer fields, etc.

Additionally, in 20th-century medicine, bubble started being used for a plastic covering or enclosure that protects a patient from infection. In the 21st century, a new sense of bubble relating to protection has popped up in sports.

It is perhaps in relation to Coronavirus and safe sport, a ‘bubble’ has come in handy as it saw new usage in the realm of sport. This term simply refers to an isolated set of accommodations and venues in which athletes can reside and compete away from the general public. 

Even though it was only for about three days, it was enough for me to see what it was about, its financial strain, the health checks, and if it is really safe.

The game was scheduled for Monday the 16th and everybody who was to take part in the event had to under-go a covid-19 test two days before the game.

These included players, technical team, match officials, security officers, Police officers, government Ministers and officials, representatives of Botswana and Zambia football associations, match broadcasters, health officers, and any other individual allowed in the stadium.

The stadium was separated into three zones according to individual status/ position. And once it is kick off time, no one was allowed to go anywhere not even to their cars. Everyone was seated until the whole duration of the game.

The BFA competition manager Setete Phuthego says the costs for hosting the match in the new normal were a bit higher than anticipated.

He said unlike in a normal game where they would have had gate taking to fall back on, this time around is a different story as they only spend and nothing comes in. 

“Even though we did not pay for the COVID-19 tests, it is surely taxing for the government who paid it on our behalf,” he explained adding that “for fumigation alone, we had to pay around P30 000.00. We also had to pay for the security services to ensure that no one tries to get in the field.” 

Phuthego went on to add that unlike before the coronavirus pandemic, security prices too were higher and had increased by at least 50 percent.

The BFA Competitions Manager stated that where they would normally pay P300 per guard, this time around they had to pay P450 per guard.

As for health checks, a round the clock check on COVID-19 test results was undertakenwith all those tested.

From these two positive cases where picked and they had to be isolated from the rest of the crowd; leading to the game starting of 10minutes later than scheduled.

Given the fact that local teams are not guaranteed government help or even gate takings to meet the costs of hosting a game in the middle of a pandemic, is a safe return to play possible?

Is the BFA’s planned safe return to football a possibility or is the association living in an alternate reality, one where teams which cannot even afford transport monies to honour matches can now afford to pay for medical checks, security or grounds fumigation?

Mmegi Sports scribe and analyst MqondisiDube noted that the new normal is quite expensive and if a bubble is introduced, it will be very difficult for teams to cope.

“Remember these teams are already struggling financially even at a time when fans are allowed into the stadiums. Now without supporters and with the new protocols, it’s going to be a very tough period for teams,” Dube said. 

In addition, he said it is easy to call for the return to action but with it there are no supporters, and this will be difficult. The costs are already prohibitive and it is difficult to see where the fans will fit in until maybe a vaccine is found. 

Local football analyst Monty Gagomokgwa said should Botswana Premier Leagues (BPL) games return, teams would be hard hit as most depend on gate takings. 

“If fumigation costs around P30 000.00 a game, that is a lot of money. Even to those clubs which are sponsored by the mines they will obviously feel the pinch,” he said. 

He said the only way teams could manage would be if the BPL takes responsibility for some of the costs. If not, he said teams will be stuck along the way as they cannot do it on their own.

“We have seen teams fail to pay players. So, if they are expected to pay for fumigation, it will be just asking too much from them,” he said.

“Mybelief and hope is that the Mother body will help to that effect,” Gagomokgwa concluded.

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