Uncertainty surrounds the 2020 Cosafa Under-17 Championship which Malawi is expected to host in July due to the coronavirus pandemic which has led to the shutdown of all international and domestic football activities.
Preparations for the competition, which were supposed to start this month, have not commenced after Council for Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) closed its offices in Johannesburg, South Africa, until further notice.
A marketing team led by Cosafa chief executive officer Sue Destombes has also failed to come to Malawi to meet stakeholders due to the travel ban imposed in South Africa.
Most of the participating teams in the Cosafa region, including Malawi, have imposed a ban on international sports events participation.
Cosafa deputy chief executive officer Suzgo Nyirenda, who is responsible for competitions, said they were monitoring the coronavirus situation before confirming if the competition will go ahead as planned.
“We locked down offices on Wednesday [March 18] until further notice. As for the Cosafa Under-17 men’s competitions, let’s wait as we still have time to July. We are monitoring the situation,” he said.
In a related development, the hosting of the tournament faces another challenge as Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine which Cosafa wants to use to verify players’ ages is malfunctioning.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) general secretary Alfred Gunda confirmed that the MRI malfunction poses a challenge since Confederation of African Football (CAF) will do the tests for all players themselves before the competition.
“We discussed with them on the Cosafa tournament requirements. They said they are already working on the MRI machine problem. We are confident that they will fix it,” said Gunda.
Nyirenda said they will keep their fingers crossed that the machine will be fixed by July.
“We are just hopeful that the MRI machine will be in use because all tests will be conducted in Malawi. Remember, this is a zonal qualifier for Under-17 Afcon and all 12 countries taking part will have to undergo the MRI in Malawi.
“Teams can do it on their own by ensuring that they bring players of the right ages, but CAF and Cosafa will conduct theirs as well which will determine which players will participate. There will be no room for age cheating,” he said. Malawi also hosted last year’s Under-17 Cosafa Championship in Blantyre which Zambia won.