The format and composition of the various leagues for season 2021/22 could still change depending on proposals of the Executive Committee which would be meeting on Tuesday and then discussed by the Council.
Following the publication of Legal Notice 93 of 2021 which prohibited organised sports on March 11, MFA President Bjorn Vassallo said that on March 17, the Executive Committee, agreed in principle that if the legal notices would be lifted on April 12, football could resume, and if not, the ExCo would meet again to decide according to the circumstances.
The ban on organised sports activities was not lifted and on Thursday, Legal Notice 145/2021 removed the actual date of the prohibition (up to April 11) and therefore prohibition on organised sport is at the moment indefinite. In fact, earlier on Friday, the Superintendent of Public Health Dr Charmaine Gauci revealed that the ban would not be lifted, not even on April 26, as according to risk assessments carried out by health authorities, sports posed a greater risk than to open non-essential shops and services, citing the example of children attending sports activities and contracting the virus and then going to school.
The MFA president said that at this point, the Executive Committee could only confirm that:
- since clubs in the Premier League played more than 75% of the matches, Hamrun Spartans could be confirmed as champions with Hibernians, Gzira United and Birkirkara taking the remaining European club competition spots, pending a UEFA licence while Senglea Athletic, Lija Athletic, Tarxien Rainbows and Zejtun Corinthians were relegated;
- since the 75% threshold was not reached in the Challenge League, the league was deemed as abandoned with no promotions or relegations, apart from the relegation of Qormi who were already mathematically relegated;
- the National Amateur League was completed with Luqa St. Andrew’s as champions with Melita, Mgarr United and Rabat Ajax also winning promotion;
- the Women’s League was abandoned since it had not reached the 75% threshold but the Executive Committee decided to award the UEFA Women’s Champions League spot to Birkirkara on sporting merit since were leading the table by five points over second-placed Swieqi United, despite having a game in hand.
- all other leagues had not reached the 75% threshold and were therefore abandoned with no declared winners, promotions or relegations
- the FA Trophy, the National Amateur Cup, the National Amateur Cup and the Women’s Under-15 Knock-Out were abandoned
- member associations have fifteen days to inform the Malta Football Association with their final decisions on their leagues.
However Vassallo confirmed that the Executive Committee will be meeting on Tuesday to discuss proposals which will be put forward in front of the Council with regards the format of the leagues for season 2021/22.
While, according to regulations, the three divisions are to be made up of 14 teams in the Premier League, 16 teams in the Challenge League and 23 teams in the National Amateur League, at this point, there are 12 teams in the Premier League, 22 in the Challenge League and 19 in the National Amateur League. This could therefore change if there are proposals by the ExCo which are then approved by the Council.
Asked whether the association put pressure on authorities for the ban to be lifted, the MFA President said that keeping in mind, even from the data published by health authorities, sports was not a major vehicle for the transmission of the virus, the association did an analysis of the situation, prepared a report and put forward two proposal in which it gave a priority to the national teams and elite football. He said that the Premier League and the Challenge League had a turnover of 8 million euro and had over a thousand players and officials under a full-time contract. He stressed that all this had to be taken into consideration but unfortunately, health authorities never acknowledged this and did not accept to meet the association. On the other hand, two meetings were held with the Office of the Prime Minister where the association could submit its presentations. However, finally, it was the Superintendent for Public Health who took the decision.
Vassallo said the association had a very rigid medical protocol. The MFA employed eleven doctors which could carry out contact tracing: carry out assessment and after isolating the positive cases, putting those at risk under mandatory quarantine and testing those with a low-risk. There was an investment of over 200,000 euro in this sector and the result was that over seven months, the leagues were sustainable and number of cases were minimal.
“Around Europe, football is being played on the basis of negative tests. This was not accepted here and went a step further and adopted the contact tracing mechanism. Health authorities failed to acknowledge who was given the responsibility and managed to deliver and are saying that organised sport cannot take place. Rather than being rewarded for all our efforts, we were put at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, this is the reality of how health authorities deal with sport.”
“Health authorities would not accept playing on the basis of players having negative tests. Over the past seven months, as soon as a positive test is identified, our doctors would do the contact tracing of all those who were in contact with that case. Training sessions were being filmed and then the risk level was established: high, medium or low risk. The reason why a number of matches were postponed is because clubs used to have several players under mandatory quarantine and not because they were positive.”