The MEC for sports, arts and culture in Gauteng, Mbali Hlophe, has admitted that the indefinite postponement of football has left the province poorer, as the PSL clubs remain idle due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Gauteng prides itself as the “home of champions”, with Premiership top guns Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns, SuperSport United and Bidvest Wits all based in the province.
According to Hlophe, these clubs are a great boost to the economy in the province, and she was looking forward to the possible return of promotion hopefuls Moroka Swallows to the elite league.
“These teams have supporters throughout the country and many travel to watch them play. In this regard, the loss of income we now face is tremendous when you consider its effects on the sport and arts economy, and on tourism and the service industry.
“Succinctly, this affects many layers – the club owners, the players, bed and breakfast establishments, the performing artists on match days, all the way down to the hawkers who sell food during games,” the MEC told City Press.
“It is in this regard that we will be meeting with the PSL to discuss post-lockdown possibilities and plans.”
The uncertainties caused by the health crisis hit when Hlophe was still settling into the sport portfolio.
Next month will mark exactly a year since the politician from Pimville in Soweto was sworn into the legislature. However, she would not have ticked all the planned boxes when she reaches that milestone.
The province’s School Wednesday Sport programme, which was supposed to be rolled out in March, has since been shelved due to the ripple effects caused by Covid-19.
“With less than a year in office, our administration is faced with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
"It has set a lot of our plans back, as we must now ensure that the virus doesn’t spread further in the province and the country,” Hlophe said.
“In a department such as ours, which does the majority of its work outdoors and in mass gatherings, it’s been tough and it requires us to think outside of the box.
“In this regard, I can confidently say that the department and its sectors have, by and large, led the wave of migrating much of our work into the virtual space.
"It’s obviously been a lot easier to do that with the arts, as seen with a number of online music activities, than with competitive sports, which requires physical contact,” Hlophe explained.
“The one thing I’m most hurt by is that we won’t be able to roll out our School Wednesday Sport programme.
"This is a programme geared towards reviving school sports and arts in our no-fee early childhood development centres, as well as in primary and secondary schools. It’s a massive programme.
"Sport and arts development from an early age is critical to our province. We also want to continue to create national champions.
“But, due to the impact of Covid-19 on the schooling curriculum, we need to prioritise academic learning, and the periods we would have used for sports and arts need to be allocated to catching up,” she said.
Hlophe said the province had resolved to restructure and divert funds, including money from her department, towards the health needs of the province – Gauteng has been hit hard by the pandemic.
She said her department, together with their economic development counterparts, were finalising on a relief fund to aid among others, individuals within the sports and arts sectors affected by Covid-19 restrictions even after the lockdown, until gatherings are allowed.
Reflecting on her tenure so far, Hlophe said it had “truly been a great experience”.
“When I was appointed, I naturally got butterflies. I’m the youngest MEC (37) in the country and everyone has lots of expectations for us to do well. That can be a lot to carry, but it’s a load that has been made manageable [due to the support I have].
"We have a great dynamic executive in the province led by an amazing premier [David Makhura] with a great vision,” said Hlophe.