Valletta FC fined €3,000 after players breached COVID-19 sport restrictions but athletes want way forward

Health inspectors catch handful of Valletta players training on pitch at Dingli facility • SportMalta chairman says way forward for professional athletes needed

Football like all sporting activities was banned as part of COVID-19 restrictions to curb the virus spread but now professional athletes want a way forward
Football like all sporting activities was banned as part of COVID-19 restrictions to curb the virus spread but now professional athletes want a way forward

Valletta FC were fined €3,000 after health inspectors found a handful of players training on the club’s football pitch in Dingli, a senior team official has confirmed.

All sports activities have been banned and sports facilities closed as part of the COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the health authorities.

Valletta team manager Jerry Ellul told MaltaToday that when the health inspectors arrived on site accompanied by the police, two footballers were training on the pitch and another three people – two goalkeepers and their coach – were exiting the premises.

Valletta FC use the facilities of Dingli Swallows to train.

“The club has not instructed players to train at the facility but there is a breach in the fence because of some construction work going on and the players were going in twos to run on the pitch,” Ellul said.

He added that the club will be contesting the fine at the tribunal sitting and explain what happened.

Ellul said the club would abide by whatever decision the tribunal and the health authorities take but insisted that there were other cases involving Premier League clubs where players were training in small groups on pitches.

“Valletta has purchased software to carry out online training sessions for players but the truth is, nothing beats training on the pitch with a football,” Ellul said, expressing the frustration of professional athletes in these times.

But beyond the Valletta incident itself, there is growing unease within the sporting community as the country starts to lift restrictions.

‘Way forward needed for professional athletes’

SportMalta chairman Luciano Busuttil said the police interpretation of the law is that all sports activities have been stopped and all facilities closed, including clubhouses and pitches.

“I will not contest the advice given by the health authorities but as the country slowly opens up, we have to find a way forward for our professional athletes even if this happens gradually,” Busuttil told MaltaToday.

He said talks have been held with the health authorities but called for a risk-based strategy to start allowing athletes the possibility to train.

“If need be we should classify sports into three risk categories – low, medium and high – and draft training protocols to further minimise risks,” Busuttil said, adding that direction was needed.

A lot of controversy has surrounded football, with the Malta Football Association so far unable to determine whether the top-tier league will continue.

The MFA has to take a decision by 25 May but the health authorities have so far been coy, giving no indication of when, or if, sporting activities can resume.

In Germany, the Bundesliga is expected to continue behind closed doors but not all countries have adopted the same strategy. In France, the leagues have been stopped and the championship awarded according to current league standings.

Football is very likely to be classified as a high-risk activity given the amount of close contact players have on the pitch, making its resumption trickier than other activities.

Athletes in other sporting disciplines contend that they run a much lower risk and clear safety guidelines should be issued that will allow them to resume training.

Busuttil agrees: “We have to continue adhering to what the health authorities say but athletes need guidance because it is very frustrating for them not being able to train.”

In today’s COVID-19 briefing, Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci said more restrictions could be lifted in three weeks’ time, depending on how the pandemic develops and in line with risk assessment protocols.

She did not indicate whether sporting activities will be among the next raft of restrictive measures to be lifted.

More in Football