Playing it safe in world of sports

Reezal (second from right) with Johor tourism, youth and sports committee chairman Datuk Onn Hafiz Ghazi (left) and Johor state finance officer Datuk Abdul Rahim Nin during the announcement that Sukma Johor will be held in April next year. — Filepic

IT IS truly welcoming news for all those involved in local sports that Sukma Johor will not be cancelled.

The Covid-19 pandemic had forced the games to be indefinitely postponed to next year and the announcement last week by Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican that Sukma Johor would go on in April 2021, albeit with some minor tweaks, is good news.

The English Premier League (EPL), just like most football leagues around the world, is also back in full swing and what a welcome relief it has been.

With the pervading gloom here and around the world brought on by Covid-19, sports is a healthy way to look on the brighter side of things.

The EPL, just like it is globally, has a huge following in Malaysia and I am sure fans of Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester Utd and Chelsea here look forward to the weekend matches and the banter that comes when their teams win or lose.

The BBC had reported this week that fans might not to be able to return to watch live sporting events in England until the end of next March.

Sports governing bodies, including those from football, rugby, cricket, Formula 1 and horse racing in the UK, were told to prepare for no spectators throughout winter.

It is too early for fans to return to watch live sporting events, especially in countries where Covid-19 cases are rising, but last week German Bundesliga club RB Leipzig allowed a limited number of fans for their season opening 3-1 win over Mainz.

There were 8,500 supporters -– roughly 20% of the home stadium’s capacity.

Leipzig took advantage of the German football authorities’ “location-specific policy” permitting clubs in regions not deemed Covid-19 hotspots to make their own decision in limiting the number of football fans at stadiums.

What was alarming though, was last Thursday’s UEFA Super Cup match between Champions League and Europa League winners Bayern Munich and Sevilla that took place at the Puskas Arena in Budapest, Hungary, attracted 20,000 fans watching the game live despite the fact that it was a Covid-19 hotspot.

There were fears that the match could turn into football’s “super spreader event” as it was the most-attended event in world sport since Covid-19 put a halt to almost all public events around the globe in March this year.

Back home, the Razak Cup hockey tournament, which concludes today, has been a welcome respite for all hockey fans here.

Rightfully, apart from the players, only tournament and team officials, state affiliates as well as medical personnel have been allowed into the stadiums.

Fans are deprived of live sports action for safety reasons. It is indeed for the betterment of the country, considering the government’s continued success in tackling the pandemic.

Reezal is also happy with the teams’ compliance with standard operating procedures (SOP) set by the Malaysian Football League (MFL) since the Malaysia League (M-League) resumed last month.

He said this was based on reports he had received as well as from his own observation when he attended the Super League clash between Kedah and Sabah at the Kuala Lumpur Football Stadium in Cheras last Monday.

“I hope teams will continue to comply with the SOP because if this (compliance) continues, we can move on to the next phase (allowing spectators), ” he said in a statement issued by the MFL.

Back to the good news about Sukma Johor, I am positive that the games will proceed smoothly as a lot of hard work has been put in.

A total of RM467.9mil was spent to complete world-class facilities as well as upgrading existing facilities.

A total of RM325.9mil was spent by the state government while also receiving a Federal allocation amounting to RM142mil.

Among the upgraded venues are Taman Daya Hockey Stadium, Arena Larkin Aquatic Centre, Pasir Gudang Municipal Council Indoor Stadium, Taman Johor Jaya Multipurpose Hall for wushu, Johor Cricket Council Academy in Mutiara Rini and Sireh Park and Iskandar Puteri for MTB cycling.

Reezal explained that members of the Sukma main committee would be holding a final meeting in December to confirm the dates for the games.

Sukma Johor will be held in three districts, namely Johor Baru, Muar and Kota Tinggi.

A total of 28 sporting events will take place in Johor Baru, while Muar will host canoeing, weightlifting and silambam.

Kota Tinggi will be the venue for sailing and road cycling.

Besides an avenue to scout and nurture young talents for the international stage, Sukma Johor is also seen as an important platform for athletes, especially those seeking to represent the national contingent at the 2021 SEA Games in Vietnam.

Let us all hope that by the time the games begin next April, fans will be able to join in the excitement live.

For now, let us enjoy the action from the safety and comfort of our homes.

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