Back to training for pro athletes but football and rugby to likely host matches in level 2
Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the department’s director general Vusumusi Mkhize briefed media yesterday on the new regulations, stating that federations had two weeks to provide a detailed outline of their plans about how their athletes will adhere to physical distancing measures. At the same time the federations must ensure that facilities used for training are properly sanitised.
For non-contact sports like cricket and tennis, the announcement was good news in terms of the resumption of competitions, albeit without spectators. In cricket’s case the national men’s team has two assignments on the horizon - Tests and T20 Internationals against the West Indies and three T20 Internationals against India.
The latter is set to be held in South Africa, and while the announcement opens the way for that to happen, a number of steps need to be followed before we can see Kagiso Rabada bowl to Virat Kohli. For one, international travel needs to be allowed, then India - most likely after using a private jet to get here - need to be quarantined for 14 days before and after the series. The series would need to be held in what Cricket SA has described as a ‘bio bubble’. That is essentially a large environment, containing a hotel within walking distance of a ground where matches will be played and where players can train.
“It would be a sanitised cricket biosphere, with strict entry standards, testing would be conducted before anyone enters the bubble and there would be limited movement in and out of it,” said CSA’s chief medical officer Shuaib Manjra.
The matches against the West Indies - two Tests and five T20 Internationals - were to be held in the Caribbean, with two of the T20 matches scheduled to be hosted in Miami. Those two matches are highly unlikely to take place given the US's problems in combating the pandemic. Cricket SA has held talks with Cricket West Indies about going ahead with that series, with a variety of options regarding a location.
The fact that Cricket West Indies in principle approved the West Indies men’s team’s tour to England will be of interest to CSA who have also discussed the possibility of them playing the West Indies matches in England, should the situation allow.
Cricket SA’s interim chief executive Jacques Faul described the return to training for the players as “massive”, and reiterated that the national men’s team would need at least six weeks of training to be ready to play again.
“At this stage these regulations apply only to professional cricket and our next step will be to draw up a protocol covering the return to training and playing and submit it to SRSA for approval,” Faul said yesterday. “I will immediately be calling a meeting of our Covid Steering Committee on Monday to get this process under way.”
The South African Football Association (Safa) also welcomed the announcement that teams can start training at level 3.
The domestic season had to be put on hold following the coronavirus outbreak.
The PSL has consistently said it intends completing its season, provided it could adhere to Fifa guidelines and government's regulations.
Safa chief executive officer Tebogo Motlanthe said: “We welcome the fact that athletes can start training under strict specific conditions. There are requirements for thorough monitoring of all athletes to ensure full compliance.
“It is also clear that contact sport like football and rugby, among others, cannot resume competitively under alert level 3.”
Mthethwa’s decision will come as a setback to many in the local football fraternity considering that a Joint Liaison Committee, consisting of members of football mother body Safa and the PSL was meant to present a proposal to government on how they planned to resume the season safely.
Speaking to IOL Sport just after Mthethwa made his recommendations, Safa president Danny Jordaan said they are open to allowing teams to resume training but remained adamant that football would only resume at either level 2 or 1 - where it would be safe for almost everyone involved.
“The JLC will meet on Monday. But the minister was clear on his statement that we cannot resume matches. So, we are now looking at level 2 or 1,” Jordaan said.
Attempts to get a comment from the PSL proved futile.
Among the suggestions for the completion of the season was that the PSL - which has 16 teams in the Absa Premiership and 16 in the GladAfrica Championship - should hold a massive national camp of all 32 teams.
This would see all the teams based in one place and using neutral venues to complete the remaining matches of the season.
With the JLC set to meet tomorrow according to Jordaan, the agenda of the massive camp is probably one of the issues they’ll discuss.
SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said the announcement is news sport has been waiting to hear to begin to “ramp up preparations for an eventual return to play”.
But, Lions Super Rugby coach Ivan van Rooyen cautioned against getting too excited too soon.
Said Roux: “We submitted a comprehensive, staged return-to-play protocols document to the Department of Sport five weeks ago and we are ready to begin medical screening of players immediately.
"We will seek further clarity from the department on the application of the guidelines as they apply to contact training.
“But this is an opportunity for our players to enhance their lockdown training regimes by increasing their fitness work for an eventual return to play.”
SA Rugby announced the suspension of all rugby on March 18. It was at the same time the Super Rugby competition was halted after eight rounds of action.
Van Rooyen, who is in his first year as head coach of the Lions, was in New Zealand with his team when Super Rugby was suspended two and a half months ago. While he said the news to return to “some form of training” was exciting, he said the next few weeks would be about testing the players.
“We’ll use this coming week for education purposes. We’ll do screening and make sure all the players understand the health and safety protocols. Right now it’s dangerous to refer to it as ‘training’, because it isn’t.
“We’ll follow all the guidelines and hopefully, in time, get the go-ahead to do some contact training, and proper rugby stuff.”
One logistical element that the federations will need clarification on is how players and athletes in areas designated as virus hotspots will be able to train with teammates. Mkhize stated emphatically that athletes from hotspots can’t travel to zones which aren’t cleared for training, given the dangers of spreading the virus.