PSL and SA Rugby have submitted their plans to Nathi Mthethwa, but don’t want to rock the boat.
Football and rugby had anticipated returning to training this week, but the two sporting codes have been instructed by their respective governing bodies not to return to the field just yet.
This is because the PSL and SA Rugby do not want to jeopardise their attempts to convince government that teams should get back on the training grounds.
As things stand, government has not yet finished scrutinising the two sports bodies’ proposals outlining their planned return to playing protocols.
Football and rugby competitions are still prohibited under level 3 of the national lockdown, but they would be granted permission if they comply under specific health and safety protocols.
Sports federations were given 14 days to submit their plans after government gazetted the directives regarding professional sports under level 3 restrictions last week.
Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s office told City Press on Friday that “it’s a process”, and that a lot of federations have applied to resume their programmes and were awaiting feedback.
“Upon receipt of the plans as required by the directions, the minister must apply his mind as to whether the sports bodies have complied with all requirements. During the period of processing the plans, no sports body is allowed to resume training or playing,” said Mthethwa yesterday he elaborated on the implementation of sport directions under level 3.
“Furthermore, in processing the plans, the minister may consult with the department of health, relative to compliance with health protocol including pronouncement of the hotspot area as to whether it is feasible to resume matches or training in such area, and the levels of risk thereto.”
Mthethwa also warned that those who resumed training or matches – either contact or non-contact – without his approval would be punished.
The PSL noted in a circular distributed to its 32 member clubs in the premier and first divisions this week that the league had already submitted its plan for the safe resumption of training.
City Press has established that the football controlling body Safa was also in the process of appointing a Covid-19 compliance officer as required by the safety and health protocols gazetted by government.
The PSL’s letter to the clubs noted: “The return to training directive has today [Tuesday, June 16] been provided to the minister and, as soon as confirmation is received that member clubs can return to training, you will be informed in writing.
Critically, the clubs need to test the players for Covid-19 and submit the results through the Safa compliance officer to get the all-clear.
Absa Premiership leaders Kaizer Chiefs confirmed that the club’s facility in Naturena, south of Johannesburg, was still closed to the players.
“The village is not fully open, only a few staff members have been reporting for work [since level 3 at the beginning of this month]. But we have been taking care of what is required in terms of the Covid-19 safety regulations – on things such as the sanitisation of the facility as well as the testing of players,” Chiefs football manager Bobby Motaung said.
“We are fortunate that our team doctor was part of the [Covid-19] compliance task team. So we have been preparing with the full understanding of what is required in terms of the protocols. On our side, we are ready for whenever the clubs are granted permission to start training,” Motaung said.
A smooth return to training will go a long way in boosting the PSL’s efforts to resume the league programme, which was suspended in March.
Europe’s top leagues have restarted competition to complete the 2019/20 campaign.
The PSL is hoping to complete its programme by the end of next month. However, it looks as if it’s still a long way to go before this happens if the rapid rise of Covid-19 infections in the country is anything to go by.
Rugby unions called on ‘to desist from training until government grants permission’
While the New Zealand franchises were this week preparing for the second round of their Super Rugby Aotearoa competition – with the Australians putting in the final touches for their July 3 return – their South African counterparts were being told to wind their necks in.
SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus called a virtual meeting of the country’s 14 provincial coaches on Tuesday evening. He implored the clubs “to pack up and go back into lockdown mode” so as not to jeopardise the organisation’s current attempts to convince government that its teams should get back on the training field.
Erasmus’ directive came after the unions had begun testing players for the coronavirus in response to Mthethwa’s recent announcement that training for contact and non-contact sport could start soon.
According the minutes of the meeting, the provincial unions were called on “to desist from training until permission from government is granted with applications having to be made from June 12 to June 26 and not to mess it up, thus putting rugby’s return to train and play another three or four months behind”.
The net effect of the local teams being ordered back into their lanes is that SA Rugby has to push back the dates on which it had hoped it could get the domestic competition off the ground.
With the estimated time to get ready to play put at eight weeks – four for conditioning and another four for full-contact training – SA Rugby has moved from hoping to start its local tournament on August 1 to August 29.
Instead of the all-franchise Super Rugby type competition that had been mooted before, the domestic tournament – the final of which is pencilled in for December 12 – will be an eight-team Currie Cup.
This will include the four Super Rugby franchises, the two Pro14 franchises and the two emerging franchises in the Griquas and the Pumas.
“The Currie Cup Premier competition will be a double round contested by eight provinces and will be the toughest in many years as local Springboks could be available to participate for their provinces,” was the message in the meeting minutes.
By the same token, the Currie Cup could be drastically weakened if the Springboks find themselves involved in a Rugby Championship.
Having hoped to play during next month’s window that has now closed, SA Rugby estimates that, were the Rugby Championship to take place – whenever that may be – it would force a withdrawal of 32 to 34 Boks from its domestic tournament on October 4.
The reason behind that mass withdrawal of players would be to double up on numbers to be able to call on ready-made replacements in the event of positive Covid-19 tests or injuries ahead of or during a hoped for Bio Bubble competition in Australia and New Zealand.
The said Bio Bubble campaign is still under discussion by Sanzaar, but would probably not be one SA Rugby is particularly keen on as the players would have to be quarantined for 14 days before they leave and for another two weeks after they get to Australia, which would affect their match sharpness.
World Rugby’s newfound commitment to a global calendar could also affect whether the mooted Currie Cup is played, while the Pro14’s announcement this week that it aims to resume its season on August 22 poses difficult questions for the two South African teams that campaign in that competition – the Southern Kings and the Cheetahs.