The resumption of regional leagues is in limbo following the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19’s decision to revert to strict enforcement of precautionary measures, limiting public gatherings to 100 people.
The development could affect the promotion of lower league teams and relegation of teams from the top-flight TNM Super League at the end of the season.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) wanted the regional league clubs to start training on January 4 in anticipation of kick off by end of the month.
However, after the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 upheld the restrictions on public gatherings, the association has backtracked on the plans.
In December, FAM competitions and communications director Gomezgani Zakazaka said the association wrote the Covid-19 Presidential Task Force, requesting permission to restart the regional leagues this month.
He said: “We submitted the request through Malawi National Council of Sports and Ministry of Youth and Sports. Our plan, according to the football resumption roadmap, was for regional leagues to resume in January.
“Our basis for resuming regional leagues in January was based on the fact that we were allowed to restart with supporters, but as it is, it would be difficult to say we can restart regional leagues when the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 has just reinstated the 100 people restriction on public gathering, including sports.
“This means we cannot play with supporters both at Super League and regional leagues. For Super League, it is easy to reinforce this restriction because the games are played in stadiums where we can simply say no supporters. But the regional league games are played at open community grounds where it is impossible to stop people from the communities from watching the matches.”
However, Southern Region Football Association (SRFA) chairperson Raphael Humba warned on the effects of failure or delays to play the regional leagues this season.
He said: “Failure to kick off the lower leagues is expected to affect relegation and promotion of teams from lower league to the TNM Super League. What will happen at the end of the season if we only have the Super League? Will Sulom not promote or relegate teams? If that happens, can we comfortably say we had a football season?
“In our football calendar, a full season is not just about Super League—it is about all the six leagues, namely, beach soccer, women’s football leagues, Super League and the three regional leagues. In my opinion, if the Covid-19 situation does not change, it is better to just suspend the season rather than just having the Super League. But all in all, we will follow what our mother body tells us to do.”
But soccer analyst David Kanyenda, a lawyer, observed that Super League of Malawi (Sulom) can suspend relegation and promotion principle or use the situation to cut the number of teams in the top flight league.
He said: “It is virtually impossible to promote any lower team in the view of the inactivity. This is a clear case where the application of the promotion and relegation principle has been frustrated by an act of God [force majeure] being Covid-19 pandemic.
“Therefore, Sulom should refrain from relegating any team unless they intend to reduce the number of teams in the league to 13. The only sensible approach in view of the pandemic is to make an exception to general rule through suspension of the relegation principle only for this term.”
Sulom president Tiya Somba-Banda said they will consult FAM and other stakeholders on the way forward.