Open letter: Taking a stand for sport

Gymnastics is a popular Olympic sport. (iStock)
Gymnastics is a popular Olympic sport. (iStock)

South African Gymnastics Federation (SAGF) CEO Anne Vermaak has written an open letter to government, joining the growing calls to address the burden currently being felt under Covid-19.

As with all sectors in the South African economy, the sport sector is paying a heavy price currently thanks to the strict lockdown measures in place in the fight against Covid-19.

Gymnastics in particular provides full or part-time employment to approximately 3 500 people countrywide. More than that we provide structured physical activity programmes for approximately 19 000 children registered at our clubs across South Africa. If we don’t resume gymnastics activities in some form soon, many clubs will be forced to close their doors.

We are cognisant of the need to play our role in curbing the spread of Covid-19, but we implore government to treat each sport on a case-by-case basis. For the sake of the survival of the South African sports economy, the government should not look at sports as a homogenous sector but rather individually. We urge government to work with us to keep our children physically active.

The South African Gymnastics Federations has done its homework and produced a detailed plan for the reopening of gymnastics across South Africa, which we submitted to government. We feel it is essential to reopen the sport so that hundreds of clubs have the means to survive financially.

With all 350 gymnastics clubs in South Africa being self-funded, members of the clubs pay a monthly fee to participate in various gymnastics activities. Club owners, coaches and their families depend on clubs being able to have classes and participate in events set up by the Federation on National, Provincial and District level. Without members, these clubs will simply go out of business.

Of course, we understand and support government's measures to slow down and prevent the spread of the virus, but our plan would minimise human interaction and therefore minimise the spread of the virus, while also allowing gymnastics, and healthy exercising for everyone to continue.

Covid-19 is posing a serious threat to gymnastics as it is to many industries in South Africa and the world. Covid-19 however has also provided us with the golden opportunity to be innovative and do gymnastics differently. We are ready for “the New Normal”. We are ready to adapt all our activities to ensure adherence to all safe practices. These include competitions, where entrants don’t have to congregate in big crowds at tournaments in the conventional manner, but rather submit their entries via video. We are ready to take gymnastics to places it has never been before.

We also intend to use the digital environment much more effectively. Our training and assistance to clubs are already digital and we will extend this approach to coaches and judges training. Furthermore, we’ve submitted very clear guidelines as to how clubs could go back into training without compromising the health of any gymnast.

Government’s Covid-19 measures makes sense for some sports where maintaining social distancing is virtually impossible. In gymnastics we do not have that problem. We can easily adapt our activities and control our numbers to ensure that we operate in a low risk environment, ensuring the safety of our athletes and coaches.

SAGF is active in all nine provinces, as well as 47 various districts with a total of 350 clubs, 341 schools and over 19 000 registered members.

Our sport creates jobs and at a time when we are bracing ourselves for widespread job losses, we are looking to save every job we can.

Anne Vermaak is the Chief Executive Officer of the SA Gymnastics Federation. She is a qualified physiotherapist, former international gymnast, coach and club owner. She is a wife and proud mother of two.

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