While it is unclear when government sanctions will be lifted and sports leagues will be allowed to resume competition, the Guam Football Association is eagerly awaiting the restart of soccer.
With the coronavirus pandemic-inspired public health emergency spreading into its fifth month, and competition having been halted since mid-March, the return to normalcy may take on a new look when sports starts back up. And with the success of the nonprofit's leagues tied to generous financial contributions from naming sponsors, and anticipating there may be an economic shortfall, GFA has secured funding from FIFA and is gearing up for a successful return.
Amid uncertainty, FIFA, the organization tasked with managing soccer worldwide, has offered financial support to its voting nations so soccer can return as normally as possible as the world slowly transitions from COVID to competition.
“The FIFA Council approved the FIFA COVID-19 Relief Plan, which consists of stages of assistance to resume leagues and all other football-related activity suspended due to COVID-19,” GFA media and marketing officer Jill Espiritu said.
“In the first two stages of the plan, FIFA provided for the immediate release of all FIFA Forward operational cost payments to member associations and, subsequently, for the opportunity to transform FIFA Forward development grants into COVID-19 operational relief funds – with a minimum of 50% of released funds to be allocated to women’s football,” FIFA stated on its website.
With $1.5 billion to assist soccer globally, FIFA’s financial assistance will be made available through grants, loans, and governance.
“A universal solidarity grant of $1 million will be made available to all member associations, and an additional grant of $500,000 will be allocated specifically to women’s football,” FIFA stated. “In addition, each confederation will receive a grant of $2 million.”
Loans will allow member nations, including Guam, to apply for up to 35% of annual revenues.
“In the interest of solidarity, a minimum loan of $500,000 will be available and a maximum of $5 million. In addition, each confederation will have access to a loan of up to $4 million,” said FIFA.
Both grants and loans can be directed by member associations to the wider football community in their respective territories, including clubs, players, leagues, or others that have been affected, added FIFA.
Even at the beginning of the pandemic, when the government intervened and ordered nonessential businesses to shutter, including sports nonprofits and leagues, GFA stayed ahead of the curve, Espiritu said.
“Even during the earlier months of closure due to the pandemic, Guam Football Association has continued to work toward readiness to resume leagues and activities, as well as doing what we can to offer assistance to the local community, including our business partners,” Espiritu said.
With canceled leagues and a dried-up revenue stream as its members remain sidelined, GFA’s commitment to sport and the community has remained steadfast, regardless if sponsors drop off or reduce financial involvement, Espiritu added.
“With the current situation, it is difficult to predict,” Espiritu said. “We are all feeling the effects that COVID-19 has on operations and economically; however, we are ready to provide assistance where we can for all of GFA's supporters, so we can continue our partnerships and resume our operations, including leagues and other activities.”
As with most businesses, COVID-19 has dealt a blow to GFA's bottom line, but the organization has done more than its fair share to help the community by donating personal protective equipment, cleaning apparatus, and even lending its parking lot to Hertz Car Rental’s fleet of vehicles, according to GFA.
Our business partners with naming rights to leagues will retain all current benefits now and once leagues resume, Espiritu added.
On Monday, with Guam having moved into Pandemic Condition of Readiness 3, relaxing restrictions and calling for all businesses to reopen with social distancing and other preventive safety measures in effect, organized sports league competition is still on hold.
“Under PCOR3, all businesses will be allowed to operate with the exception of senior citizen centers and organized sports leagues, tournaments and events, subject to all previously issued minimum requirements,” Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said during a press conference July 17.
Without a firm restart date, and based on possible scheduling conflicts, field availability and other challenges, GFA may have to postpone some league play to 2021.
“The closure of GFA for about three months was a setback for leagues offered to the community and in particular, leagues played during the later months of spring and during the summer,” Espiritu said. “As we continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation in Guam and follow all government of Guam mandates, we will reassess our activity calendar for the remainder of 2020.
“If, due to calendar availability, we are not able to put on all GFA leagues and activities originally scheduled during GFA's closure, we may postpone until next year.”
While FIFA’s support will go a long way to insure soccer’s success, continued growth, operations, and sustainability may only be achieved with help from the private sector, GFA said.
“As with any local nonprofit organization, the success of Guam Football Association's operations, activities and initiatives are based largely on the generous support of the community and, in particular, business partners,” Espiritu said.
With operations running on a limited basis, a far cry from the thousands of athletes that usually play on GFA’s pitches, training has been limited to a few select national and elite teams. Slowly, and with social distancing at the core, operations are coming to life.
On July 31, GFA will be offering coach education and training workshops.
“The next coaching course will be the Guam Football Association D Coaching Certificate Course, a four-day course scheduled to begin July 31,” Espiritu said. "This particular course is open for all interscholastic soccer coaches."