The euphoria that normally accompanies the start of each football season was eclipsed by safety concerns over coronavirus outbreak.
In Malawi, no case has been registered yet but there is no doubt that coronavirus has not only shaken the sports industry but other sectors across the world.
Most sporting events have been postponed and others cancelled due to the virus which started in Wuhan City, China last year.
With neighbouring countries registering coronavirus cases, anxiety has gripped Malawians as to what would happen should the deadly virus hit the nation.
South Africa’s Premier Soccer League is the latest high profile fixture to be postponed as a way of controlling the spread of Covid-19.
Interestingly, Football Association of Malawi (Fam) president Walter Nyamilandu admits that fear has gripped not only the sport sector but entire nation following events across the globe.
“We are not safe. This needs expertise from the Ministry of Health. We are relying on their counsel. From the football perspective, we are being guided by the circular that Fifa has issued in conjunction with WHO [World Health Organisation] on how to prevent the spread of Coronavirus,” he said.
Malawi National Council of Sports (MNCS) Acting Executive Secretary, Henry Mereka, said the situation was tricky with no confirmed cases in the country.
“No incident has so far been registered but this pandemic is real and has hit the sport sector badly. As sport, the health of athletes and officials is paramount, as such, all are encouraged to follow the prescribed precautionary measures to prevent contracting and spread of the virus. Sports attracts sizable clouds of people and again movement of people beyond borders makes sport people even more vulnerable hence the need to be more cautious,” he said.
Former Fam Acting General Secretary, George Kaudza- Masina, said the industry in general was suffering following the outbreak of coronavirus.
“The airline industry at large is almost going bankrupt with the travel restrictions, with South Africa Airlines cancelling 160 destinations. The sports industry has not been spared with most associations the world over putting on hold their leagues. This is going to affect these associations financially on TV rights, parameter and billboards advertisements around stadia and gate corrections,” he said.
Masina feared that most sporting events required contact as such poses high risk of transmitting the disease.
“Most sports activities require contact which is the easy way of spreading the virus fast which makes our athletes vulnerable to the disease,” he said.
The former Fam executive member warned the nation not to relax as the country was yet to register coronavirus.
“Despite not officially registering a case of coronavirus in the country so far, there is likelihood that the disease might affect us, considering our porous borders and that most of our neighbouring countries have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Worse still, South Africa, which is most patronised, has not been spared…chances are high that we have it already in the country,” he said.
Masina called on major local sport stakeholders to tread cautiously.
Masina said patronage was most likely to be affected as a result of coronavirus fears.
“To the Super League teams which solely depend on gate collections for their survival, it will be a disaster. Even the well sponsored teams, the indefinite break is likely going to eat into their budget. This might be a lesser devil than exposing our athletes into the coronavirus danger,” he said.
Southern Region Netball League General Secretary, Charity Gondwe, felt it was important to safeguard lives.
“We can delay this year’s season as a preventative measure to this virus,” she said.
Currently, most countries including England, Spain, Italy, France and the United States of America (USA) have suspended sporting activities as a way of halting the spread of the coronavirus.