13 July 2021 – Just when one was of the assumption that the Covid pandemic was about to ease up, as it has in various parts of the globe, the country was plunged back into (adjusted) alert level 4.

Various industries were hit hard, such as restaurants, with football inevitably affected yet again, particularly at amateur level. The footballing world longs for the scenes at the recent Euros event in which cities such as Budapest enjoyed maximum turnouts.

However, it could be a long while until such an atmosphere is enjoyed again locally. The most relevant aspect in footballing terms is the health and safety protocols associated with the sport.

This is a vital part of current proceedings as this is what has ensured the completion of various leagues and tournaments over the past year.

So what exactly do the general protocols encompass and why is it so important to ensuring the sustainability of football in current circumstances, not just locally but globally?

It begins with the basics of mandatory wearing of masks, social distancing in and around stadia, as well as sanitizing and regular handwashing (SMS). This includes the fans, players and officials (except on the pitch), administrators, coaching and support staff. Training must also follow the same procedures.

Compliance officers are vital in ensuring that protocols are met, enforced and respected. Such officers must be granted a wider range of responsibilities which will bode well for the sport.

Various leagues have issued warnings to clubs to crack down on anyone who breaches such rules as well as curfews and to sanction and punish them accordingly. Being strict also provides governments as well as the public and stakeholders, with more reassurance and confidence.

Other aspects include teams using more than one or two buses to ensure social distancing as well as encouraging players and staff to eat off-site, although home-bases can still provide food.

The implementation of a one-way system inside training ground buildings and even with regards to change rooms in stadiums, should be employed. There is also talk across various leagues in terms of introducing a ‘red zone’ for areas utilised specifically by first team players and even staff.

Personnel at training grounds should be kept at a minimum, as compared to before, and the number of ‘meeting points’ where people may come into contact must also be limited or reduced.

Such strict policies extend into gym areas in which every single piece of equipment must be wiped down thoroughly after each session. Indoor pitches may also remain open as long as they are ventilated and a proper risk assessment has been carried out.

Even aspects such as individual physio contact has been limited to a maximum of 15 minutes in most leagues. In terms of travel, compliance officers must be given the green light to inspect all buses, trains or even airplanes before usage or on arrival. They should also preferably inspect changing rooms and benches, to ensure cleanliness, disinfecting and social distancing.

The regular and mandatory testing of players and staff is also a key factor and in cases of infections, proper isolating of such players. 

All-in-all, common sense needs to prevail and individuals need to be mature enough to follow the rules. We are lucky enough at local level where SAFA health and safety mandates have been carried out with great success overall.

Here’s hoping for a full resumption of football while still firmly prioritizing health and safety.