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Fuming City boss Comitis on the tension between Safa and PSL: 'They don’t want us to return to football'

Cape Town City FC chairman John Comitis.
Cape Town City FC chairman John Comitis.
Image: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

The South African Football Association (Safa) and the Premier Soccer League (PSL) have hit another impasse on a return to play of the professional game‚ with club owners accusing the association of “moving the goalposts”.

PSL clubs are shocked at Safa informing the league that the referees will begin training from this week for the return to play in the Gauteng biologically safe environment (BSE)‚ meaning an August 1 kickoff. The PSL says it needs six weeks to complete the season by August 31‚ and had hoped to kick off by July 18.

Cape Town City chairman John Comitis said his belief is that Safa does not want to the PSL to return in 2019-20.

Safa acting CEO Tebogo Motlanthe denied this. He said the association’s major issue is not referee fitness but ensuring compliance‚ and a key meeting on such that has not taken place – especially given that the association can be held liable should the BSE plan fail.

The PSL clubs‚ now operating without certainty of receiving their R2-million monthly grants‚ have extended players’ contracts to August 31‚ and say going past that will be too expensive and complicated.

An angry Comitis said the current impasse could scupper the entire process of getting the league back to play after clubs have spent large sums on testing and sanitisation.

“I’m in for R120‚000 on testing to return to play in this [bio-safe] bubble and respect the protocol‚” Comitis said.

“We expected to return around July 21. Safa was completely aware of this at every turn in the meetings in June – they mustn’t talk nonsense‚ because I was in those JLC [joint liaison committee] meetings.

“And at every turn we tried to pin them down to a date around the middle of July‚ and every time the minutes would come back recording August 1.

“ … What is the worry about the referees’ fitness? They have 10 days. And you saw [former referee] Ace Ncobo’s comments [in a report in The Citizen] that a referee is like a professional footballer – that’s the nature of his job to stay fit.

“Even if 70 percent are fit‚ even if Safa want us to substitute officials at half time‚ we are prepared to look at that. But anything and everything is blocked.

“ … The government gave Safa a letter to oversee this thing‚ and that’s a problem because they’re not cooperating in any way. All they do is delay and derail.

“ ... In the meantime the government has been to our grounds to inspect and been satisfied‚ and given us a letter from June 23 to start training.”

Comitis said his belief is Safa does not want the PSL season to be completed. “If we sort out the referees then it will be something else. They don’t want us to return to football.”

Comitis did add that if Safa keeps to its word of August 1‚ he believes that is workable to complete the league and Nedbank Cup‚ which is at the semifinal stage.

Motlanthe denied Safa is moving the goalposts. He said more important is that a meeting by the PSL’s chief compliance officer‚ Michael Murphy‚ and his association counterparts‚ Dr Thulani Ngwenya and Mlungisi Ncame‚ has not taken place.

“I believe the refereeing issue is a side issue‚” Motlanthe said.

“The major issue we are talking about with the league is compliance. Immediately we received a letter from the sports minister [Nathi Mthethwa] that we must oversee compliance we wrote to the league and said‚ ‘Let’s meet and deal with compliance’.

“In a meeting on Friday Michael Murphy was said to be sick. We gave our presentation to say the league could start in the first week of August.

“The league wrote me a letter on Friday‚ saying the league would start on July 18‚ and I responded [in a letter] that I was surprised by that.

“ … The referees were initially saying August 6‚ and we said August 6 is too long‚ ‘Can you reconsider?’ They came back with August 1. I sent that recommendation of August 1 to the league the same night.

“The PSL BoG [board of governors] met yesterday [Tuesday]. If the league comes back and says‚ ‘Can we play from the 25th?’‚ Safa has always been amenable.

“ … Once we are happy with compliance I can write to the government. Because in terms of the gazette Safa is going to be held liable.

“I find the question about why Safa has not trained referees all along opportunistic. In that‚ the gazette is for a return to training.

“The referees were training individually. How many players‚ when you say‚ ‘Go and train’‚ come back and are not fit?’

“The referees’ committee wants to ascertain whether the referees are fit‚ and we can’t deny them that.”

Motlanthe said on the meeting with Murphy: “Thulani Ngwenya told me they are waiting to hear from Mike.”

Motlanthe guaranteed no moving of the goalpost past the first week of August. “We are giving the assurance that the first week of August‚ we will have the referees.”

On a compromise of July 25‚ Motlanthe said: “At this stage that’s not a good possibility. [But] we are engaging in good faith.

“August 1 is a recommendation from Safa. We gave it to the PSL so they could discuss it in their [Tuesday] BoG‚ and we are waiting for their feedback.

“So if the referees say to me‚ ‘On the 25th we can have referees for the Nedbank’‚ why not start then? But currently the official position is the first week of August.”

“ ... And look‚ we have said that the two letters from the government [one to the PSL and one to Safa] has created confusion.

“We are saying that‚ as confusing as it is‚ we have got a certain authority from the government. And we are saying to the league‚ ‘Give us the compliance so we know we will not be liable‚ and then we are ready to go with you’.