SOUTH African officials voted Monday to restart the Absa Premiership — the richest football league in the continent — on August 11 after it was halted in March by the coronavirus. An official involved in the online decision-making meeting told AFP that the 2019/2020 campaign would conclude on September 5.
The remaining 54 league matches will be played behind closed doors in the central Gauteng province, whose main cities are Johannesburg and Pretoria. Gauteng is the epicentre of the pandemic in South Africa but the national association says health protocols will ensure there is only a “one percent chance” of anyone being infected. By last Sunday, South Africa had confirmed 445,433 COVID-19 cases and 6,769 deaths, making it the country most affected by the disease in the continent.
The Moroccan Botola Pro 1 championship will be the first major African league to resume amid the pandemic when two matches are played Monday. They will be followed by two other major leagues, the Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1 on August 2 and the Egyptian Premier League on August 6, before South Africa kick off.
Of the other top leagues, Algeria are undecided whether to restart or not while the Democratic Republic of Congo cancelled theirs last March. Burundi were the only African country to continue playing through the pandemic and Tanzania were the first to resume, in mid June.
Before the August 11 league resumption, the Nedbank (FA) Cup semi-finals between Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits and Baroka and Bloemfontein Celtic will be held three days earlier.
11 matches in 29 days
Sundowns and Wits have nine league fixtures each to play — the most among the 16 clubs — meaning whoever wins the semi-final must play 11 matches in 29 days. Were Sundowns or Wits to play every third day they would need 31 days, two more than allocated, to complete their league and cup schedule.
The decision to restart a season suspended in March by COVID-19 was a relief to Absa, one of the five major South African banks, whose contract expires when this season ends.
“We trusted that the PSL (Premier Soccer League) would do everything in their power to complete their season,” said Absa managing executive David Wingfield.
Television rights holders SuperSport will also welcome the decision to resume as Premiership matches attract large audiences.
There are 54 league matches to play plus the semi-finals and final of the Nedbank Cup, the South African equivalent of the FA Cup. Kaizer Chiefs, winners of a record 53 domestic competitions but seeking a first trophy in five seasons, are the league leaders with a four-point advantage over Mamelodi Sundowns.
But 2016 African champions Sundowns have one match in hand as they seek a third consecutive title and a record-extending 10th overall. At the other end of the table, only seven points separate seven clubs in the battle to avoid relegation, and the dire financial consequences it brings.
While the club finishing last in the Premiership pocket 440,000 rand ($27,000/23,000 euros), the second division champions receive only 300,000.