CSA exploring unique 'bio-bubble' to facilitate return to cricket

Dr Shuaib Manjra speaks to media (Gallo)
Dr Shuaib Manjra speaks to media (Gallo)

Cricket South Africa (CSA) is exploring every avenue to get back to playing cricket as soon as possible, including the creation of a unique 'bio-bubble'. 

With South African and world sport still hamstrung by the global fight against the coronavirus crisis, administrations are under strain financially with some advertising and broadcasting revenue no longer a certainty. 

Ultimately, regardless of the code or country, sport needs to take place for it to generate income. 

The Proteas are due to travel to the West Indies at the end of July for two Tests and five T20s and are then set to return home for a three-match T20 series against India in late August. 

Both of those tours are in jeopardy given the restrictions in place while losing the India visit, in particular, would be a huge financial loss. 

In a video press conference on Thursday, CSA Director of Cricket Graeme Smith confirmed that all options were being looked at in an effort to, first and foremost, play cricket against the West Indies, even suggesting that those matches could be played in South Africa or at a neutral venue. 

The India series, though, is the one that matters more from a financial point of view. 

There are obviously several stumbling blocks to cricket returning to South Africa - the country is currently on Level 4 of its national lockdown - but CSA is actively engaging with government in an effort to stage matches again. 

Part of that proposal is the consideration of a 'bio-bubble' where new team doctor Shuaib Manjra provided some valuable insight. 

"Our objective is that we return to play in South Africa in a way that is safe and responsible to players and the cricket community," said Manjra.

"A bio-bubble would be a sanitised cricket biosphere with strict entry standards and limited movement outside of its cordon. It would require regular testing of all those within the bubble. People wouldn't be able to leave or come in unless there were strict criteria met.

"We would test people before they go in.

"It's a very controlled environment and we can ensure that people don't leave and others don't enter. Even in the bubble, we would have social distancing and there would be regular testing."

For the bio-bubble to work, all facilities would need to exist within close proximity and there would need to be an 'okay' from government. 

"I see a bio-bubble working in around Stage 3 or Stage 2 (of the lockdown)," Manjra added. 

"What England is doing is looking at a facility that has a hotel on site, where there are playing and training facilities in one area. We need to find something similar, and probably Potchefstroom is one option where you've got everything within 200m of the ground.

"The tricky question is around international travel."

The existing global trend is a 14-day quarantine period for those who have travelled, which would make the logistics surrounding the Indian series even more complicated. 

"The India tour to South Africa with three T20 games, if it does take place, is an ideal opportunity to create this bio-bubble," said Manjra.

"We don't envisage that, at that point in time, there will be spectators allowed in the ground. We can create a bio-bubble and play those games in that bio-bubble to ensure that all players are protected.

"If India had to come here for three T20s, they would probably have to quarantine for 28 days - 14 days when they arrive and then 14 days when they leave."

One suggestion, then, was to have more than two international sides stationed at a single complex over a period of time to maximise the playing potential. 

"It's a good idea, whether it can happen or not, to have multiple teams living in a bubble because otherwise it's nearly 30 days of quarantine for three days of play, which is quite dramatic," said Manjra. 

The other major issue for Manjra is that, at this stage, there is not enough scientific evidence to know how even asymptomatic players who are infected with the coronavirus would react to the physical demands of professional sport.

"We don't have huge bodies of scientific data to guide us. For us to ensure a duty of care to players, we have to nail this issue," he said. 

"We've put an expert panel together that Dr Ntobeko Ntusi, who is the Head of Medicine at UCT, has agreed to chair."

Smith, meanwhile, called for unity amongst the global cricketing community. 

"Sport has had to think like a business now. We've got to look at many aspects of our game and how we make it work and I think all member bodies need to come together and find a way to make it work," he said. 

"Our goal is to get cricket up and running as quickly as possible."

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