The Malta Football Association hopes domestic competitions will be resumed and concluded by the end of June or July. Addressing the media by videoconference with updates regarding the current situation due to the COVID-19, MFA President Bjorn Vassallo said that following a resolution signed by UEFA, the European Club Association, European Leagues and FIFPRO Europe, the association cannot take a decision on its own but needs the go-ahead by the European body.
The MFA President said that considering that there are only six match days to play, apart from the semi-finals and final of the FA Trophy, this should not be difficult although there was the possibility of the competitions ending in summer.
We met online with the other UEFA members during which we agreed that individual member associations would not take any decisions related to domestic competitions, the calendar after UEFA negotiated on behalf on its member associations, with the ECA, European Leagues and FIFPRO Europe.
Each association was asked to present a possible scenario for the completion of domestic competitions by June 28. We presented this possible scenario covering all divisions, including youths and women’s football. UEFA has a working group, made up of different stakeholders, which is discussing these possible scenarios. The objective is to determine the winners, teams who qualify for UEFA competitions, teams to be promoted/relegated in the coming months. Since the situation is still very fluid, one could not speculate but if the first scenario is not plausible, the second or eventually the third scenario would be considered.
Vassallo said that at first the possibility of resuming competitions in May until the end of June was being considered but now, starting in June and ending in July was a more plausible option. He added that there was a commitment by all associations around Europe – a coordinated approach so that all domestic competitions are completed although if the situation changes, associations would have to abide by new directives.
One has to take into consideration the international break between the 1st and the 9th June during which UEFA plans to re-schedule competitive matches which were due to be played this week apart from friendly matches.
Malta was due to play Portugal on June 9 apart from the possibility of re-scheduling the friendly matches against Gibraltar and Azerbaijan which were due to be played this month.
Next Wednesday, UEFA will be holding another meeting for the general secretaries of all the member associations during which the Working Group will present a second proposal.
Apart from having to consider the different options for the closure of the current editions of the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, UEFA could be forced to make changes to the format of the the qualifying rounds of the 2020/21 editions of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, especially in the case domestic leagues around Europe would not be completed by the end of June.
With regards to the team due to represent Malta in the Serie C next season, Bjorn Vassallo said the project was ‘frozen’ in order to continue from where they have left as soon as this was possible. He added that there was the political willingness from the FIGC to allow the team to join the league but obviously the time-line had to be revised. Discussions were completed and the package was set to be presented on March 14 during the ad-hoc Council meeting. The package included the Professional Football Committee’s proposal to mitigate the impact of this team on domestic competitions and the charter to safeguard clubs.
Vassallo said that most of the work of the association continues in a normal manner due to the investment carried out in the past months and years. He said most of the members of staff were working remotely. On the other hand, staff from the maintenance and cleaning department are working normally as the association took the opportunity to do a good clean up of the stadiums especially in the public areas since this was usually only possible during the Christmas break and the summer break.
The MFA President added that the situation was fluid – changing rapidly all over the world. A situation which would probably lead to a recession and therefore it was of utmost importance to be well prepared for it. Over the past weeks, a number of meetings were held and press releases were issued by the association to keep the general public up-to-date as communication was vital.
He added that the MFA was being proactive by holding a number of meetings, including the Social Dialogue Committee while the MFA Bureau is meeting on a regular basis.
The Social Dialogue, which brings together all social partners, led to a proposal to remove the parameters at youth level. A proposal which was due to be voted upon two weeks ago but the meeting had to be postponed. We had reached an agreement on a Collective Bargaining Agreement. During a meeting held yesterday, members of the Social Dialogue Committee were asked to obtain a mandate to act on behalf of their members so that an ad-hoc collective bargaining agreement on work-related issues is agreed upon in case of the different scenarios – that this season’s competitions are completed within the next two-three months and the scenario where the domestic competitions are not completed. issues related to leave in summer which could be anticipated, the reduction in salaries, etc. The next meeting will be held next Wednesday.
Vassallo said that while top leagues will be affected, the effect on smaller leagues such as ours could be bigger since the local clubs could not count on big sponsorship deals and TV rights and clubs rely mainly on individual sponsors. Therefore if the economy is hit badly, these sponsors would be unable to support clubs and without the necessary liquidity, clubs would be unable to honour their contracts.
The MFA President said that amounts which the association had promised clubs to replace gate-money are guaranteed. Therefore even if matches were to be played behind closed doors, when domestic matches resume, this would not affect the club’s income.
Vassallo stressed on the need to look at the bigger picture – the sustainability of the local game so that when medical authorities give the go ahead to resume domestic competitions, football could continue. He said football was important for country, not only for the economy and the number of people working in this sector – with the MFA employing two hundred people – hundred full-time and hundred part-time – and the thirteen thousand affiliated in some way or another. Football contributes a lot to the economy apart from the social aspect and values shared.
Parliamentary Secretary Dr Clifton Grima has asked the association to compile an executive report on the impact of the COVID-19 since sport has not been included yet in the measures of financial assistance, apart from the taxes and social contributions, amounting to thousands of euro, which were deferred. This report will focus on the financial damages sustained by the association, member clubs and youth nurseries and the GFA and sports tourism.
Between March and June, MFA SportsPlus had to cancel training camps and friendly matches leading to a lost of 6,500 bed nights. Luckily, a number of professional teams had already conducted their training camps in January/February but most semi-professional clubs usually conduct their training camps between February and April. Azerbaijan, Gibraltar and Liechtenstein were due to visit Malta over the last week of March with each team playing two friendly matches. Malta was also due to host two conferences by UEFA in March/April.
The FIFA Confederations COVID-19 Task Force met over the past days and on Thursday, a leaked report by Reuters claimed that this working group is suggesting that current contracts for players and coaches should be extended until the end of the delayed domestic seasons; transfer windows are changed in accordance with new season dates and clubs and players are urged to work together to find solutions to salary payments during stoppages.
Bjorn Vassallo said that at this point, the most crucial element is not the calendar but amendments to the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players in order to lift the uncertainty faced by clubs – not to leave them decide on their own, therefore having a coordinated approach with the provision of guide-lines to member associations.
UEFA set up another working group which met on Thursday to discuss regulatory to forward proposals to FIFA on the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players
After the suspension of all football and futsal matches, the MFA has promised to give clubs a prior notice of at least fourteen days on the submission of the revised fixtures.
Criteria for continuous professional development for coaches were suspended; financial criteria for domestic club licensing were extended from March/April to May/June; EU residence permit obligation was temporarily suspended and section 4.6 Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players was amended so that clubs and players can mutually agree to have an early termination of the contract. Thanks to this amendment, a number of players have already reached an agreement with their clubs and left the island.
Vassallo stressed that during these times, which is similar to a situation of war, we need to find effective solutions to survive and we urge everyone to safeguard football. This is a very difficult situation and that is why we are being proactive, there will be collateral damages on the whole system football included.
Meanwhile the fact that the two friendly matches for the national team against Gibraltar and Azerbaijan in programme this month were called off has definitely hampered the plans of Malta coach Devis Mangia ahead of the UEFA Nations League which kick-off in September. Malta was then due to play another three matches in June. The MFA President said he hopes Malta would have time to play friendly matches ahead of the first competitive match in September.
During the first week of June, the Malta Under-21 side is due to host Ukraine and Finland – two matches which were scheduled for March at the Gozo Stadium but which will now be played at the National Stadium due to the costs of keeping the pitch of the Gozo Stadium in perfect condition for another three months.