Rival officials differ over restart date for South African league

AFP , Saturday 18 Jul 2020

South African Premiership leaders Kaizer Chiefs pose before playing Bloemfontein Celtic this season
South African Premiership leaders Kaizer Chiefs pose before playing Bloemfontein Celtic this season (AFP)

A war of words has broken out among South African officials over when the 2019/2020 season should restart in a country battling to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Premiership officials wanted to resume this weekend while the South African Football Association (Safa) insist August 1 is the earliest football can be played behind closed doors.

An official from the Absa Premiership -- the richest African national league -- has accused Safa of "delaying tactics to prove they are the bosses".

But the national body insists it is following FIFA guidelines and has slammed the league for "taking short cuts and putting lives at risk" as COVID-19 cases soar.

By late Friday, there had been 337,594 infections, an increase of 13,3730 in 24 hours, and 4,804 deaths, making South Africa the African country most affected by the pandemic.

While Safa have overall control of South African football, the Premiership is run by a separate organisation widely regarded as more efficient than the mother body.

There is no love lost between the organisations with Safa boss Danny Jordaan recently accused of insecurity when it comes to Premiership chief Irvin Khoza.

Dennis Mumble worked alongside Jordaan for many years as chief executive at Safa and he confirmed in an interview what many South African football followers suspected.

"He (Jordaan) will walk down the street, stub his toe on a rock, and blame Irvin for the rock being in the road," Mumble told the Arena Holdings media group.

Invited to respond to the allegation, Jordaan, a former parliamentary lawmaker with the ruling African National Congress, declined.

- Authoritarian tone -

When the coronavirus swept across South Africa in mid March, forcing the suspension of football, Jordaan struck an authoritarian tone.

"Safa, and no one else, runs football in the country," he declared in a message clearly aimed at Khoza and other league officials.

Some league club owners want Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa to intervene, saying the "delaying tactics" of Safa are putting jobs at risk.

Safa, who appoint referees for league fixtures, insist that match officials will only be match fit at the beginning of next month, hence the planned August 1 kick-off.

But former FIFA and Premiership match official Ace Ncobo dismissed this claim as "obstructionist".

"I mentor some of the referees, speak to them frequently, and know for a fact that most of them are ready," Ncobo said.

"They kept fit during the coronavirus lockdown by exercising individually. The only thing they need now is to undergo COVID-19 tests."

Cape Town City FC chairman John Comitis says the referees issue is just a delaying ploy by Safa, who he believes are desperate to show the league who runs football in the country.

"If we sort out the referees situation, then there will be something else. Safa do not want us to return to football."

Although the central Gauteng province is the epicentre of the pandemic, it will stage the outstanding 57 Premiership and Nedbank (FA) Cup fixtures.

Eleven match venues, including six of Premiership clubs, and 14 training grounds have been chosen for the resumption.

Spectators will be barred, but virtually all matches are likely to be screened on pay-to-view SuperSport, the Premiership rights holders, or free-to-air public broadcaster SABC.

Kaizer Chiefs top the table with a four-point advantage over defending champions and record nine-time title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns, who have played one match less.

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