NPL plan restart but health ministry yet to grant approval

NPL plan restart but health ministry yet to grant approval

Thursday, September 24, 2020

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PLANS are afoot to have the nation's top football competition, the 2020-2021 National Premier League, begin on Saturday, November 14, supported by an allocation of US$250,000 from Fifa's COVID-19 relief fund to help with the club's preparation.

However, in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a restart hinges on the approval of the Ministry of Health and Wellness as regards the protocols for engaging in the sport of football. The start-up date had previously been announced as October 15 but this was forced back due to the increased outbreak of COVID-19 cases in recent time.

Under the new normal the Government's health ministry has to approve protocols for sporting activities to take place in an environment that caters to public safety.

These proposals are yet to be approved and the health ministry's Dr Nicole Dawkins-Wright, director of emergency disaster management and special services, was forced to skip Tuesday's press conference after being summoned to another meeting with Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the same time.

Telephone calls to her mobile number have gone unanswered since then.

Nonetheless, Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) President Michael Ricketts gave details during Tuesday's press conference at Jamaica Pegasus hotel prior to signing a memorandum of understanding with the newly formed Professional Football Jamaica Limited, the body incorporated to undertake the commercialisation of the league. It replaces the Premier League Clubs Association.

“As part of our commitment to ensuring that we meet all requirements of the country and our health authorities, we are pursuing a plan to hold the games at central locations as opposed to individual club venues. You will realise that this will allow us to manage all the protocols more successfully. The health authorities will determine any potential for spectators,” Ricketts said.

He noted that clubs will be restricted from having fans at the training venues, which must be held in a very secure environment. This will allow for more effective management of the health and safety protocols.

“As an important step and in order to provide a level of assuredness during the preseason preparation of the teams, the JFF will take the unprecedented step of having all players, technical staff, auxiliary staff, administrative and executive personnel, totalling approximately 600 people, complete a COVID-19 test commencing on Monday, September 28, 2020. This process will be repeated before the planned kick-off on November 14,” Ricketts declared.

It is expected that each test will cost about $5,000, for a total of $3,000,000, and no one could definitively outline the number of tests which will be done and how often.

“I want to also announce today that in keeping with a public commitment we made, the JFF has allocated US$250,000 of the COVID-19 relief funds received from Fifa to the Jamaica Premier League.

“Specifically, each of the 12 clubs will receive $1.2-million, and the additional amount will be used to cover costs related to the administration of the league including outstanding debts. These funds will be disbursed in short order to the clubs,” said Ricketts.

The JFF boss outlined a number of changes which have been developed and with which the clubs and other stakeholders are becoming acquainted pending his board's ratification.

Some of the changes are related to COVID-19 and its negative impact.

The National Premier League, which is yet to secure a title sponsor, is slated to run from Saturday, November 14 through to June 30, 2021.

Instead of the usual three rounds of matches, this season will see two rounds plus the play-offs.

At the end of the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons there will be no demotion of teams. Two clubs will be promoted from the corresponding season of the JFF play-offs or second tier – whichever is applicable. This therefore means that for the 2021-2022 season there will be 14 teams and for the 2022-2023 season, 16 teams.

Team rosters must include eight players [up from seven] who are under 21 years of age, and a maximum of six players [up from four] of foreign nationality, including players eligible to play under Caricom rules.

For matches, substitutes will be up from three to five for the 2020-2021 season.

Also, Ricketts said that they have been using the time to get the house in order and to plan for the revival of the premier league under a stronger professional footing, planning for the establishment of a tier-two structure and the implementation of a women's legacy programme as part of the professional structure.

He added that this entire effort was linked to Jamaica's thrust to qualify for the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, win the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup, qualify for the Fifa Women's World Cup 2023, and qualify for the Youth World Cups for both genders.

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