Nathi Mthethwa | More than R70m from Covid-19 fund spent to help athletes and artists

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Artists have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. (Supplied, Giffy Duminy)
Artists have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. (Supplied, Giffy Duminy)

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the sporting and arts fraternity hard, leaving many people with dried up income streams, writes Nathi Mthethwa.

During the uncertain early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, President Cyril Ramaphosa shared the words of former president Nelson Mandela:

It is now in your hands.

At that time, the country was on lockdown for close to two months and Covid-19 infections were rising sharply.

Many of the things we had previously taken for granted, such as going to the stadium to support our favourite team, or watching the derby on television, had all but ceased. Sport, like most other facets of society, was put on hold as our nation fought for its very survival.

We are encouraged that the people of South Africa have heeded the call to take matters into their own hands to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Our country is now at lockdown Alert Level 1, largely due to the positive actions of South Africans who have adapted to the new normal and adopted new behaviour to minimise the spread of the virus.

The progress we have made is remarkable and we are finally at a point where the sporting, arts and cultural passions of South Africans are ready to be reignited. Under Alert Level 1, the safe reopening of the arts and sporting sector is allowed. Both are major contributors to economic development.

Income streams drying up

Through sport, the economy is uplifted by the contribution of athletes, administrators and commercial partners. The sport sector employs a significant number of people who work both part-time and full-time.

Since the lockdown, the sport and recreation fraternity has been severely affected, with most sporting codes suspending their games to prevent the spread of the virus. Athletes, arts and cultural practitioners and technical personnel saw their income streams dry up as they were unable to participate in their business activities.

As government, we were well aware of this reality and we therefore created a special Covid-19 Relief Fund for arts and culture, and as well as for the sport and recreation fraternity. This fund was used to distribute money to those who make a living from the arts and sport.

To date, more than R70 million has been spent towards various categories, such as the living legends, relief for athletes, as well as relief for our arts and culture practitioners.

We, therefore, welcome the move to Alert Level 1, that will allow those who rely on the industry to once again earn a living.

As a result of this move, venues for exercise, recreation, culture and entertainment are now allowed to accommodate up to 50 percent of their capacity.

Sporting events are permitted without spectators and international sporting events are still prohibited.

Even with these safety provisions, it is up to each one of us to ensure we take adequate safety precautions, sanitise regularly and keep a fair distance from others.

Furthermore, sport such as rugby, professional boxing and athletics – which had been given permission to train behind closed doors and under social distancing rules since June – have since been allowed to return to play following President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement that the country would move to Alert Level 1.

The Premier Soccer League, on the other hand, resumed their delayed 2019-20 season in August under a strict Covid-19 safety plan and the 2020-21 season is expected to start in October. While fans are still not allowed to attend some of the sporting events, at least they will be able to watch from home.

Not out of the woods yet

We are aware that many fans are clamouring to once more feel the excitement of sitting in the stands while cheering on their team.

However, we are not out of the woods yet and any premature return to normality risks undoing all the good work we have done.

Decisions on allowing greater fan access will be re-evaluated as time goes on and will be in line with the relevant safety precautions.

As we begin the steady process of getting the ball rolling, South Africans are encouraged to watch their sporting codes on television or online while we fight the good fight against the coronavirus.

Government will continue to use all sporting codes to help grow the economy, as well as build social cohesion and human solidarity, as we have been doing since 1994. Let us remain resilient and continue to inspire hope as we gradually come out of what has been a very difficult period for all South Africans.

- Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture

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