Friday 18 September 2020, 11:14

FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan helps restart Thai league

  • Players, officials and fans delighted at restart of Thai league

  • FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan funds coronavirus testing, ensuring players and officials can return to action

Since the approval of the FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan in June made USD 1.5 billion available to assist the football community through the global pandemic, over 150 FIFA member associations have made applications for funding. In many countries, such as Thailand, the relief plan has had an immediate effect, with the domestic league restarting last weekend.

“I’m grateful that FIFA sees the importance of football in Thailand,” said General​ Somtot Phoompanmoung, President of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT). “COVID-19's worldwide spread has badly affected the economy, hitting the football industry especially hard. FIFA funding came at the right time and the Football Association of Thailand was able to use it to develop VAR systems, improve organisation and provide benefits for the footballers.”

The FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan funded testing of all players and match officials prior to the restart of competitive action, supported the implementation of the video assistant referee (VAR) system in the Thai domestic league, and provided players and officials alike with the opportunity to return to action.

“I am very happy to be able to play again,” said Port Authority FC captain Siwakorn Jakkuprasat. “Because I’m a football player, I really wanted to get back out on the field. During the lockdown period when I had to stop (training), I was very bored, so knowing that I’d be playing football again made me really happy.”

“Me and my team members, we are so looking forward to returning,” added Muangthong United FC captain Wattana Playnum. “We have been counting the days to have another chance to enter the field. It’s really like one thing in life missing because we stopped the match for a long time.”

The return to action has also been welcomed – and appreciated – by Thai referees.

“It's been a long time, six months, that football has been stopped, but for sure life and football should be going on,” said international referee Sivakorn Pu-udom. “We don't stand still. We prepare a lot. We have to change our lives to relate to the situation right now, but we are ready. We are ready to restart. FIFA is supporting the COVID-19 testing in our country. FIFA never left us behind.”

“To have the opportunity to return to competition, I feel blessed,” added international assistant referee Thanet Chuchern. “I missed it, and I think of the atmosphere of the actual competition. I miss the football field.”

The five matches that took place last weekend also included a limited number of spectators, with an average attendance of 2,300 fans also able to experience football once more as per protocols set by the local health authorities and government.

Although Trat FC lost out in a five-goal thriller away to Chonburi FC, Trat supporter Visit Arunmart was delighted to have the opportunity to see his team once more. “I'm very happy that football matches have restarted,” he said. “I love watching football – both Thai and international leagues. I hope COVID is gone soon, so I can enjoy watching (more) matches.”

FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan: In the first two stages of the FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan, FIFA released all FIFA Forward operational‑cost payments to its member associations (MAs) and, subsequently, provided the opportunity to transform FIFA Forward development grants into COVID-19 operational relief funds, with a minimum of 50% of released funds allocated to women’s football.

In the third stage, further financial support is now being provided through a system of grants and loans, supported by strict governance controls.

Via grants, a universal solidarity grant of USD 1 million - payable in two instalments - is being made available to all MAs, with an additional grant of USD 500,000 dedicated to women’s football. In addition, each confederation is receiving a grant of USD 2 million.

In terms of credits, the MAs are able to apply for interest-free loans amounting to up to 35 per cent of their audited annual revenues. In the interest of solidarity, a minimum loan of USD 500,000 is available up to a maximum of USD 5 million. In addition, each confederation has access to a loan of up to USD 4 million.

Both grants and loans can be directed by MAs to the wider football community in their respective territories, including clubs, players, leagues, or others that have been affected.

In order to ensure effective oversight of the plan, there are strict governance controls on the use of funds, audit requirements, as well as clear loan repayment conditions. A FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan steering committee, chaired by Olli Rehn, who is the Governor of the Bank of Finland, a member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank and a former Vice-President of the European Commission, has also been established to supervise the administration of the scheme.