By Ahmad Nazrin Syahmi Mohamad Arif
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 -- There is no denying that people's safety and health agenda, which is the government's priority in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, is the main factor leading to the decision to cancel the 2020 Malaysia Cup football tournament.
The National Security Council (MKN) thinks the sport involves physical contact between players that can cause the risk of COVID-19 infection, but the reality is that no cases related to the professional football activities have ever been reported in Malaysia.
Sadly, the decision came after the first round of the Malaysia Cup has started, and after this season’s Super League and Premier League ended successfully without any positive COVID-19 cases due to the discipline of the 24 teams in complying with the stipulated standard operating procedures (SOP).
It would be great if the oldest football tournament in Southeast Asia, which has three more rounds left - the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final - continues, thus preserving the prestige of the tournament ahead of its 100th anniversary next season.
Since the Malaysia Cup, formerly known as H.M.S Malaya and Malaya Cup, was first held in 1921, the tournament had to be suspended only during the Japanese Occupation of then Malaya.
FOOTBALL AS ‘ENTERTAINMENT’ FOR ORDINARY PEOPLE
The 2020 Malaysia Cup has become an element of 'entertainment' for the sports community, especially football, as people seek various sources of entertainment during the COVID-19 pandemic to help with stress relief.
It was reported that the first round of the 2020 Malaysia Cup involving eight matches recorded 6.6 million views on YouTube with the epic clash between Kedah and Pahang managed to reach the highest number of views at 2.1 million.
Football fans also showed strong support during the Super League and Premier League matches which recorded 29.3 million views even though it was delayed about for about five months before resuming at the end of August.
Apparently, the government's decision on not allowing the Malaysia Cup to take place during the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) period invited various netizens' reactions on social media.
"If the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final of the 2020 Malaysia Cup can be continued, more views would be recorded and it will be a positive development for the national football industry," said a Facebook user.
In an effort to ensure that the Malaysia Cup tournament continues, the Malaysian Football League (MFL) had came up with a proposal to continue the competition this season via tight SOP including holding matches at venues in Kota Bharu and Kuantan which are not under CMCO .
The governing body also proposed that matches to be played in empty stadiums to minimise the risk of infection and for players, team officials and referees to be required to undergo COVID-19 swab test.
MFL also suggested staging matches in one centralised location using the quarantine-based which is similar to how UEFA and AFC organised the UEFA Champions League and AFC Champions League for this season.
This season’s tournament sees a new format being used, a knockout system practised by the AFC Champions League and the UEFA Champions League this season, as a measure to reduce the number of matches and the risk of infection.
RIGHT DECISION TO STEM THIRD WAVE OF COVID-19
However, National Sports Institute (NSI) sports medicine expert Dr Jasmiza Khuzairi Jasme, when contacted, said the government's decision was the most appropriate way to stem the third wave of COVID-19.
Dr Jasmiza Khuzairi, who is also national football team doctor, said that despite complying with the SOP, the risk of infection still exists.
For example, he said some world famous football players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba were tested positive for the virus even though they were all asymptomatic.
"Many infected patients or individuals do not have any symptoms, it is difficult to know who is infected and who is not. So any programme involving a large number of people still poses risk of transmission.
“Although MKN's decision made some people angry, what they are trying to avoid is a new cluster. When an infection occurs, many parties including teams, referees, MFL, stadium management, bus drivers and family members are also affected," he said.
If there is a case of infection from the Malaysia Cup matches, it will be a complicated and long process of contact tracing as well as other measures to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
Malaysian National News Agency
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