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16-TEAM LEAGUE NOW A REALITY!

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My dearest readers ... Now that you have read the story on the back page ... er oh, no, you haven’t, because you always like to start by munching on your weekly Tuesday buffet called Lwazi’s Pandora’s Box. Hahaha…Fine by me. But now, turn over your favourite newspaper, our lead story today on the back page indicates that, yes, a 16-team Premier League is now a reality.


I remember vividly, like it happened yesterday, when the members of the Premier League of Eswatini (PLE) Board of Governors mooted on the idea of the 16-team Premier League given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which has caused irreparably damage in every sphere of society worldwide, I was one of those who thought a 16-team league in a population of 1.2 million people was not feasible. I had been informed by the shocking financial statements of the PLE, which in the last financial year ending in June 2019 had made a loss of E32 000.


vulnerable


I am hopelessly aware too that given that the PLE is also nursing the game’s orphan and vulnerable child, the National First Division league, a 16-team Premier League would see the organisation sink into the bottomless financial abyss. For instance, one game in the Premier League, involving Manzini Sea Birds and Green Mamba, believe me you, raised a pitiful E40. This basically means only one fan paid to watch the mid-week clash.


Please don’t laugh here because this is as serious as a heart attack. Now some games in the National First Division league consistently collect less than E200 in gate collections week in and week out. It has become a norm. This then means, the PLE has to dig deeper into its coffers to cover the costs of their biggest expense – the match officials travelling and match allowance claims. With that in mind, increasing teams to 16 would basically mean the country’s top three teams, who are the main crowd pullers and money makers of the PLE, would have to carry an even bigger load of 13 other teams than the current 11 teams they carried in the suspended 2019/2020 season. That was my source of apprehension about the calls to increase the Premier League to 16 teams. If a country with 55 million people, with all the resources you can ever dream of like Mzansi also has a 16-team league, which is stretching the Premier Soccer League (PSL), with a turnover of E1 billion, to the limit; what can little Eswatini possibly manage with a shoe-string budget, lack of venues and an organisation bleeding money at such an alarming rate one wonders what would be the loss for this financial year ending June 30, 2020.


But reality has sunk in. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2019/2020 season, whether we like it or not, has imploded right before our disbelieving eyes. Even the silk-suited souls who (mis) run our football have shifted focus to the more personal gratification of laying their hands on the levers of power – the forthcoming PLE elections. The Eswatini Football Association (EFA) will make a pronouncement on the fate of the 2019/2020 season, but your guess is as good as mine. The season will be voided and this in unavoidable. We are not ready to restart the season; we were not ready from the moment it was suspended and the onus is now to forge ahead of how football will resume, whenever that is - Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi says it will be a miracle. One thing is certain, whenever it returns, the football decisions have to be taken now so that everybody involved can prepare for life in the COVID-19 era – the new normal. The boardroom decisions are key now. What happens to the 2019/2020 season in terms of the prize monies, the relegation and promotion for both the Premier League and National First Division league? What happens to the various regional leagues as well?


question


That’s the million dollar question. Be that as it might be, the 16-team Premier League is now a reality. It is now unavoidable if the EFA and PLE want to avoid litigation from teams. Promoting the two deserving teams from the National First Division and not relegating any from the Premier League would mean no team will be relegated. Any other decision to relegate from the Premier League as things stand will open a leeway for those affected teams to go the legal route. We can all avoid that by taking decisions that would be fair and just. Nobody invented the coronavirus. Nobody knew it would hit our football – and all sports – for a six. We have an unforeseen scenario which calls for the powers-that-be in football to engage all the stakeholders and come up with a water-tight resolution that will ensure when the 2020/2021 season swings into action on a more sober and new normal environment that will be embraced by all.
I hate to admit this but a 16-team Premier League, is now indeed, a reality. 

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