Provisional green light for South African sport to resume

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 15: Khama Billiat of Kaizer Chiefs on the attack during the Absa Premiership match between Cape Town City FC and Kaizer Chiefs at Cape Town Stadium on September 15, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Shaun Roy/Gallo Images)

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Professional sport in South Africa was on Saturday given a provisional green light to resume training.

Sports minister Nathi Mthethwa said non-contact professional sport will be allowed under strict conditions, which include playing without spectators, while contact sports such as football and rugby will be able to resume training.

Mthethwa was speaking at a briefing to outline how sport would be affected by an easing of South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown which will come into effect on Monday.

Contact sports will have to provide detailed plans and get approval from the government to ensure the safety of players and officials before they can resume training, said Mthethwa.

“This allows us to begin to ramp up preparations for an eventual return to play,” said Jurie Roux, chief executive of SA Rugby.

Roux said rugby had already submitted a comprehensive plan to the government and was ready to begin medical screening of players immediately, which was one of the provisions mentioned in Saturday’s briefing.

All rugby in South Africa was suspended on March 18, disrupting the southern hemisphere Super Rugby competition.

International tours by Scotland and Georgia, which were scheduled to take place in July, have been postponed but Rugby Championship matches involving the world champion Springboks against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina during August and September are still pencilled in.

South Africa’s Premiership club competition was also suspended during March but the Professional Soccer League hopes to complete its league programme by the end of July. League leaders Kaizer Chiefs had eight fixtures remaining when play was halted.

Cricket South Africa welcomed what acting chief executive Jacques Faul described as “a big boost for the operational side of our cricket”.

Although a tour of Sri Lanka, scheduled for June, has been postponed, the South African men’s team hope to be able to play the West Indies in July or August, possibly at neutral venues in England rather than in the Caribbean, while a home Twenty20 series against India could take place in August behind closed doors.

Vusumusi Mkhize, director-general of the government’s department of sport, said at the briefing that level one of the lockdown was a realistic prediction for when contact sports will return to play.

The lockdown started at level five but will be eased to level three on Monday, allowing most businesses to return to work.

“We have a very good relationship with the sports bodies,” said Mkhize, discussing a meeting with football officials that had taken place on Friday. He also said there had been detailed discussions with other sports, including rugby, cricket, tennis and golf.