Floriana kick off football season in the shadow of the coronavirus

Floriana FC footballers will be taking a swab test tomorrow in preparation for Wednesday’s Champions League match

Floriana will play against Romanian side CFR Cluj at the Centenary Stadium in Ta’ Qali in the first qualifying round of the Champions League. The game kicks off at 9pm on Wednesday 19 August
Floriana will play against Romanian side CFR Cluj at the Centenary Stadium in Ta’ Qali in the first qualifying round of the Champions League. The game kicks off at 9pm on Wednesday 19 August

Floriana FC footballers were swabbed for COVID-19 yesterday in preparation for Wednesday’s Champions League match as football returns in the shadow of the coronavirus.

The club will be the first Maltese team to play competitive football since all sporting activity was stopped last March when the coronavirus pandemic first hit.

Floriana will play against Romanian side CFR Cluj at the Centenary Stadium in Ta’ Qali in the first qualifying round of the Champions League. The game kicks off at 9pm on Wednesday.

All players and team officials will stay together at a hotel before the match in an attempt to minimize exposure to risk, Dione Borg, Floriana FC secretary general, told MaltaToday.

However, he acknowledged that eliminating all risk is next to impossible.

A recent COVID-19 cluster included three Balzan FC footballers, who were on a training camp at a hotel when they tested positive.

“This is the new reality that football has to get used to and a stark reminder that getting back on the field of play was never going to be an easy task,” Borg said.

All Champions League qualifying matches are being played on one leg to make up for the delay in the new season as a result of the disruption in domestic leagues caused by COVID-19.

Games will also be played behind closed doors and the mandatory swab test, two days before kickoff, is part of new medical protocols adopted by UEFA, the European football governing body.

Cluj players will also have to undergo similar swab tests.

Only last week, a game from the preliminary round between Kosovo’s Drita and Northern Ireland’s Linfield was abandoned an hour before kick-off, after two players from the Kosovar team tested positive for COVID-19.

The game was to be played in Switzerland and the health authorities there ordered the Kosovar team to stay in quarantine. As a consequence, Linfield were given a bye to the first qualifying round as per UEFA regulations.

This is a prospect any team would want to avoid, which is why football clubs are taking extra precautions.

Floriana’s club doctor, George Grech, is the medical officer who is acting as liaison between the club, the Malta Football Association and UEFA.

Talks on medical protocols clubs have to adopt have also include Valletta FC, Hibernians and Sirens FC – the three other Maltese clubs that will play in the Europa League later this month.

“Our medical officer is in constant communication with UEFA to ensure medical protocols are in place. This is the reality dictated by current circumstances,” Borg said.

On match day, only footballers, 10 committee members from each club and journalists will be allowed to enter the ground. The game will be played in eerie silence with no supporters to cheer on the team.

And the same rules are expected to be adopted by the MFA for the domestic leagues. The association has decided to play domestic games behind closed doors until further notice.

Clubs will have to appoint a medical officer to oversee safety protocols, no dressing room showers will be allowed and supporters will not be allowed to follow team training sessions.

A decision on the Youth FA leagues will be taken at a later stage depending on whether schools will reopen as usual in September.

Domestic football competitions are scheduled to start next month.

Malta has experienced a surge in coronavirus cases, in line with similar trends witnessed in Europe.

The increase in cases has led government to reintroduce some restrictions on mass gatherings and make mask wearing mandatory in retail outlets and public transport.

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