Much has been said about the PSL’s biologically safe environment, but what does it really look like? Gomolemo Motshwane visited a few venues that are hosting the games to see how everyone is staying safe.
Before the PSL was granted permission to resume games, the organisation made a number of health safety assurances to government. It reassured the authorities that all games would be played behind closed doors and that clubs would follow stringent lockdown protocols.
On match days, stadiums are eerily quiet and are no longer the buzzing meccas they used to be.
There is no booming sound system or the crescendo of fans trickling into the facilities, and no smell of food being prepared by street vendors. Nothing!
People walk past the stadiums, mostly oblivious to the game under way inside.
Security officers stand guard at different entrances to the stadium to ensure that no unauthorised people attempt to enter.
On Wednesday, the PSL used three football fields at the Wits University campus in Johannesburg to host games. SuperSport United faced Polokwane City (2-0) at Bidvest Stadium, while TS Galaxy clashed with Cape Umoya United (2-2) at the Wits Rugby grounds. Close by, Free State Stars were up against Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (3-0) at Sturrock Park.
A few hours before the games kicked off, a group of about 30 Johannesburg Emergency Medical Service (EMS) officers gather in a cluster, discussing who will be deployed where.
Although no fans are allowed into the grounds, the EMS officers are not taking any chances and have brought a full staff complement as they normally do.
The broadcast crews can also be seen setting up their equipment to fulfil their responsibilities of bringing games into the living rooms of millions of South Africans.
The quietness outside is interrupted by the sudden cry of police sirens as the team buses arrive in a motorcade escorted by the Johannesburg Metro Police Department.
As they disembark, what stands out is that everyone, including the players, has an accreditation card hanging around their necks. Before entering the stadium, an official is seen scanning the players’ accreditation cards. They are then allowed to go in.
A club official, who asked not be identified in respect of the protocols, explains the process: “Everyone who arrives at the stadium must produce an accreditation card to prove who they are. Without it, you can’t get in.”
A facilities manager approaches the City Press team and asks us to leave. We make him aware that we are not there to burst the bio-bubble as we are in a public space on the varsity campus and nowhere near the players, but our presence is not welcome and we have to leave.
It’s the same experience at Tuks Stadium in Pretoria, where Kaizer Chiefs played Bloemfontein Celtic (1-3) later in the day. People who work on the University of Pretoria campus tell us that they have been given strict instructions not to attempt to watch the games.
A player, who spoke on condition of anonymity, paints a picture of life inside the bubble.
“Things are very different playing in the bubble. At the hotel, everyone has their own room – unlike before, when we shared rooms. We also have to sanitise all the time. Our temperatures are checked every day.
“On match day, our temperatures are checked before leaving the hotel and then again when we get to the stadium. There is also a player card that I have to keep with me all the time. It is checked when we arrive at the stadium. Without it, a player can’t get in,” he said.
From the outside, one cannot tell that there is a lot happening inside the stadium. At township stadiums particulary, fans are frustrated that they cannot get a glimpse of their favourite teams in action.
Moss Moraka (42), of Atteridgeville in Pretoria, is one such supporter. The Mamelodi Sundowns fan finds it ironic that he cannot watch his team play, despite living a block away from Lucas Moripe Stadium.
“What can we do? We can only watch them on TV. It’s a very strange situation that we cannot watch football at the stadium, but we all have to comply with the rules,” Moraka says.
Of course, as a member of the media, I relate to his frustration. Most journalists are not allowed into the stadiums to cover the games except for SuperSport and the SABC, the official broadcast partners of the PSL.
A limited number of crew members from the two broadcasters are allowed into the stadiums, while just one photographer – from the BackpagePix agency – supplies media houses with the images.
- COOLING BREAKS
The water breaks are mandatory during matches and they happen 25 minutes into the game and in the 70th minute.
- FIVE SUBSTITUTIONS RULE
Teams are allowed to make five changes during games, but they can name nine substitutes on the team list. All the reserves sit in the grandstands – not the bench – during games.
- EXTENDED DURATION OF MATCHES
Most of the games play for up to 96 minutes due to the cooling breaks and other stoppages.
SuperSport confirmed that there were 270 crew members deployed in the bubble. All other media, including City Press, are barred from going to the stadiums.
- BALL BOY EXTRAS
Some team officials are allowed on the ground on match days to serve as additional ball retrievers, to assist the four “ball boys” deployed at each match.
- KIT CHANGE AT HALF-TIME
The teams, including match officials, must change their kits at half-time.
While watching the games on TV, one notes some obvious differences from the way things are normally done. And all this will go on until the end of the 2019/20 season next month.
The new normal is indeed strange, not only for the players and the clubs, but members of the fourth estate too.