Safa's chief doctor explains suspension of all football

18 March 2020 - 15:42
By Marc Strydom
Dr Thulani Ngwenya of SAFA as they announce cancellation of all football in South Africa amid Covid-19 during the SAFA press conference at SAFA House on March 18, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images Dr Thulani Ngwenya of SAFA as they announce cancellation of all football in South Africa amid Covid-19 during the SAFA press conference at SAFA House on March 18, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

South African Football Association (Safa) chief medical officer Dr Thulani Ngwenya has laid out the association’s reasoning for suspending all football until April 4.

Safa‚ as the country’s ruling football body‚ announced a suspension of all soccer at Safa House in Nasrec on Wednesday in response to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa.

This might bring Safa into yet another collision with their professional wing‚ the Premier Soccer League (PSL)‚ who are to have a meeting of their board of governors at the PSL offices in Parktown on Thursday regarding the league’s options going forward‚ including playing behind closed doors.

Ngwenya said internationally playing behind closed doors had proved not to be effective limiting infections from Covid-19.

He said Safa had a responsibility to the players‚ match officials and technical staff of football clubs‚ and to the country as a whole‚ to suspend all football.

“The current situation in South Africa is we have around 2‚191 suspected cases and [116] confirmed‚” Ngwenya said.

“The unique situation we have in South Africa is that we have a lot of immune-compromised people with HIV‚ Diabetes‚ TB and Asthma. We all know that Convid-19 is very dangerous for people who are immuno-compromised.

“Covid-19 is also highly contagious in situations of overcrowding. In South Africa we have an average household of about four people‚ and places like Alexandra and the Cape Flats that are highly clustered.

“We have less than five clubs in our national league who have full-time sports physicians. Most clubs do not have detailed medical data of their athletes. That makes it very difficult to know if they have a chronic condition.

“Football being a contact sport is driven by emotions and celebration. It involves pulling‚ pushing‚ hugging‚ spitting on the ground‚ and that you can really not take away.

“And the dressing room habits of singing‚ clapping‚ touching are very difficult to take away‚ especially in a day.”

Ngwenya said examples in Europe‚ which has become the next epicentre of the spread of Covid-19 after China‚ were that closed-doors matches were ineffective limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

“The statistics say that the first-world countries like Spain‚ Italy and Switzerland have tried to play football behind closed doors‚ but we have had a situation where it hadn’t given positive results‚” the Bafana Bafana team doctor said.

“Some players had to be quarantined for 14 days after playing behind closed doors.

“Let’s make a scenario in South Africa. If two clubs play‚ and one team has a player who is infected‚ the other team is at risk.

“If players becomes infected from the other team‚ the support staff are at risk. They go home to their households and they have maybe a family of four.

“In a situation like Alexandria or the Cape Flats‚ then it can easily go from one person to the other. And then we will have a serious challenge in the whole country.

“As the chief medical officer of Safa‚ I made an oath that my patients come first. And I have that responsibility to advise Safa’s authorities that the athletes’ health comes first.

“The reality is that should we have an outbreak our health system would not be able to cope.”

Covid-19 has reached 200‚000 confirmed cases globally‚ with 7‚900 deaths.