Delaying return to play will take big toll on SA Rugby
It has been 19 days since Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa gave SA Rugby the green light to return to the playing field, but South Africa’s top professional players are still awaiting the thumbs up.
SA Rugby’s return-to-play plan and Covid-19 health and safety protocols are yet to be approved by government.
It has been a long and frustrating wait. And it is now time rugby’s return to action was fully backed.
Livelihoods, contract agreements and mental and physical well-being are on the line and the longer government waits to give the go-ahead, the less time there will be for SA Rugby to stage a much-needed local competition.
South Africa’s top players have been idle since mid-March when Covid-19 struck the world and a suspension of all rugby was called. In that time, players have had to take salary cuts and train in isolation at home and wonder about their future.
Rugby in Europe, as well as in Austra-lia and New Zealand, has started up again, but in South Africa the players are still waiting for permission to train in full; that is to be allowed to make and take contact. Without full contact, training players won’t be in condition – physically and mentally – to go into the match environment with confidence.
Nearly three weeks ago when Mthethwa said rugby could restart, SA Rugby gave government a health and safety plan, but this has yet to be signed off by the necessary people. And that has resulted in SA Rugby’s plans of launching a local competition between eight teams being pushed back by several weeks.
SA Rugby was hoping to play a Currie Cup-type competition, which would include the Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers, Kings, Cheetahs, Griquas and Pumas, in one or two venues, inside a so-called bio-bubble, next month, but that is now unlikely. If the green light is given today, it will possibly mean another six-week wait before the players will be up to speed to play in an actual match, meaning significant action may only be seen in early October. This “late” start will give the Springbok players little time to get match-fit for the proposed Rugby Championship which is set to take place in Australia or New Zealand in November; not an ideal situation for the World Cup winners of last year.
South Africa’s rugby family has waited long enough, and patiently at that, and it is now time the switch was flicked to “on”.