Johannesburg — There can be no doubt that the lifting of the Covid-19 restrictions last week will be a boon to the country’s sporting codes.
The pandemic hit sport hard — it curtailed seasons, halted schedules and denied bum on seats at stadiums and eyeballs on the telly. The industry came under immense financial pressure, with many implementing cuts to survive.
SA Rugby was arguably hit the hardest during this period, losing millions in revenue; while the country missed out on billions during the British and Irish Lions tour, which was played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus last year.
So, there was surely a measure of comfort when the Government finally did away with the limitation that only allowed 50% capacity in the country’s stadiums.
That has assured that Loftus Versfeld will be packed to the rafters on Saturday in the first Test between the Springboks and Wales. It certainly caused SA Rugby president, Mark Alexander, to be cheerful on Thursday while at the announcement of the union’s new sponsorship with Toyota.
“It is a relief for South African rugby,” said Alexander. “Our union raises funds via Tests and the funds from those Tests go directly to the unions.
“But it's not only them (that will benefit)
“There are a lot of people that feed off events like these — informal traders outside; the guys that sell little trinkets and stuff — they also feed off of it.
"It is good to have spectators back. It is some good news for the country," Alexander added. "The one thing about sport is that it brings our people together … It is a good way to get South Africans together.
"It gives hope to South Africans when they can come to games like this and, hopefully, the Springboks will put up the best performance that they can.”
After losing out on the golden goose that is a BI Lions tour in 2021, SA Rugby can expect to bounce back in the coming months. Loftus will have sold out signs posted at its ticket offices on Saturday, and you would expect that Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein and Cape Town Stadium will follow suit in the coming weeks.
The two Rugby Championship fixtures against New Zealand at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit and a week later at Emirates Airline Park, will further pad those coffers.
A 100 000-plus spectators are expected to attend just those two matches. At the end of September, the 52 000-seater Hollywoodbets Kings Park could also see a substantial crown for SA v Argentina in the final round of the Championship.
It would seem then, that the pain for SA Rugby — and indeed all sporting codes that generate their revenue through spectator participation — could be over … Covid-19 and geo-politics willing.