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NO FANS AGAIN FOR SEASON KICK-OFF – MINISTER ‘MADZE’

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LOBAMBA – Again, the 2021/22 season will kick off without fans.

This was revealed by the Minister of Sports, Culture and Youth Affairs, Harries ‘Madze’ Bulunga, during the football vaccination campaign launch held yesterday at Lobamba where football officials, players and supporters came in their numbers to vaccinate for COVID-19. Football supporters came in their numbers to give assurance to government that they were ready to vaccinate and be allowed back to football venues.  The government, through the Minister of Health, Lizzie Nkosi, gave the football fraternity hope that if they at least pushed the vaccination programme to 70 per cent of the population to get the COVID-19 vaccine, only then can they consider allowing back supporters into the stadia. The ended season was played behind closed doors and that came at a huge cost for the teams.

“The new Premier League and National First Division football season kick-off in early October, for now, it will be without supporters. Changing this and also pushing for the resumption of all other lower leagues, including super, promotional and social leagues is now in our hands. We shouldn’t let another football season pass us by. As I conclude, I wish to assure the football family that there is a strong political will to allow for the return of football supporters in stadiums and to allow for the resumption of lower-league football, but this has to be backed by actions from our side as the football family,” he said.

Unite

Bulunga said football needs to unite the country towards vaccination and towards herd immunity. He said vaccination is the only way of getting supporters back in stadiums. “While many have spoken about creating incentives to allow only vaccinated football supporters into stadiums, the truth is, and this is not a lasting solution and instead presents numerous logistical challenges. With only about 16.7 per cent of the country’s population fully vaccinated, our goal instead, should be to push for a wider uptake of vaccination across the country and hit herd immunity,” the minister added. Bulunga said government and EFA have set up vaccination sites across the country for football people. He encouraged everyone with an interest in football to make use of these sites and get vaccinated. The minister said the latest statistics show that about 81 per cent of the eligible population in the UK is vaccinated.

Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi said they were aware how frustrated the football fraternity is and how eager the fans are to return to watch games, but they have to first fight the COVID-19 pandemic through vaccinating. Nkosi revealed that at least about 1 200 people had died over the past 12 months and that was about 100 people per month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the fourth wave is likely to hit around December and that is why it is important that everyone take the COVID-19 vaccine and be safe. Only professional or organised football was allowed to continue playing, but behind closed doors and it’s been 18 months since fans last watched a football match. The only allowed football matches to be played were those under the Premier League of Eswatini (PLE) MTN Premier League and MTN National First Division League and national teams under the Eswatini Football Association (EFA). Also present during the launch was the EFA President, Peter ‘Samora’ Simelane and PLE Chairman, Mark Carmichael among others.

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