Football Association of Malawi’s (Fam) proposal to kick off the 2020 season in August could put referees in an awkward position as they would spring into action without undergoing fitness tests.
The new season failed to kick off on March 21 after the government suspended all activities that draw gatherings of over 100 people in a bid to control the spread of coronavirus.
The suspension affected all sports disciplines as Malawi National Council of Sports asked its affiliates to comply with the government order.
However, there is a possibility of the ban being lifted as stakeholders are currently considering ways of returning to action in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This comes in the wake of petitions that football fans from various clubs delivered to Fam and Sports Council, calling for commencement of the 2020 season.
The petitions triggered a meeting between Fam and Sports Minister Francis Phiso on Monday in Lilongwe, where it was agreed that a committee be set up to come up with direction on the matter.
In its submission to the minister, Fam proposed that the season kicks off in August and ends mid next year.
But should the season indeed kick off in line with Fam’s plans, referees would be forced to enter the pitch without their fitness being tested. Fam Referees Development Officer, Maxwell Mtonga, said after undergoing the first phase of physical fitness training in February, referees were supposed to have the second phase this month.
Mtonga said the second phase had been suspended due to the pandemic.
“Staging the national physical test for our referees cannot work for now as we are still waiting for Covid-19 to ease. Fifa told us that we must be 100 per cent free from Covid-19 before we get the go ahead to conduct the fitness test.
“Football is a game of body contact and we have been asked to follow all the precautionary measures. Even when undergoing such tests, referees come into contact with each other. But in the absence of physical tests, we bank on online procedures which help the referees to maintain fitness even by training from home. So we are assured of their fitness because they are training wherever they are,” Mtonga said.
The development means that only referees who passed the first phase of the national referees physical test will be eligible to officiate TNM Super League and Premier Division matches.
Referees physical fitness trainer, Moffat Champiti, said there was a possibility of conducting the test in September.
“We can only hope that Fifa allows us to conduct the test in September. For now, the referees are maintaining their fitness online. I remain optimistic that they are following all instructions to maintain their fitness as we wait for the go-ahead from Fifa.
“We are just following instructions from Fifa on how best we can train our referees, especially those with Fifa badges. Those who do not have Fifa badges will have to wait until we get the green light to conduct the national physical test,” Champiti said.
Fifa referee Ishmael Chizinga said he was following all online lessons from the world football governing body.
“During and after the lessons, we link up with our instructor [Champiti]. So doing physical tests online is proving to be quite helpful to us. We even send videos from what we have learnt. This is used for assessment,” Chizinga said.
The fans had given Fam up to May 30 to have the season kick off but the association’s president, Walter Nyamilandu, asked for patience, saying there was need to consult the government on the matter.