Currie Cup

Bulls chief hopeful of fans' return despite Covid-19 setbacks

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Bulls CEO Edgar Rathbone.
Bulls CEO Edgar Rathbone.
Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images
  • Bulls CEO Edgar Rathbone still believes SA Rugby could twist government's arm to allow for a limited number of spectators at the playoff matches of the Currie Cup next month.
  • He noted that the majority of local unions desperately needs the alternative revenue stream and that most stadiums are ideally designed for social distancing measures.
  • Rathbone also explained why enlisting juniors to fill the void of seniors when a Covid-19 outbreak strikes isn't as viable as some people believe it is.

Bulls chief Edgar Rathbone is hopeful that Covid-19's continued disruption of the local rugby calendar as well as South Africa entering a second wave of infections doesn't derail plans for a return of fans to stadiums.

Sport24 has reliably learnt that SA Rugby has actively sought approval from government for relevant unions to host a maximum of 5 000 spectators for next month's playoff phase of the Currie Cup.

The majority of local union's finances have been severely impacted by the pandemic, prompting them to lobby more actively for some form of gate revenue.

With the expected semi-finalists all boasting stadiums with high capacities, social distancing could be achieved relatively effectively with proper measures.

"It's very important for the local rugby economy as a whole to have supporters back," Rathbone said on Thursday following the confirmation that the Bulls' match against Griquas had been cancelled due to Covid protocols.

"Most of our major stadiums are designed in such a way in terms of space that it should be relatively easy to implement social distancing and have effective protocols. It's still a major priority for us to get fans back. 

"I'm hopeful this latest setback won't have an impact on it."

Under current lockdown regulations, no fans are allowed at matches of any local sporting code and it would seem unlikely that rugby would be able to lead the way in changing that given soaring infection rates.

Meanwhile, Rathbone also provided clarity on why teams affected by outbreaks within their squads can't still fulfil fixtures through the use of junior players in order to protect the integrity of the tournament.

A perception exists that, with the Provincial Under-21 Championship already completed back at the end of October, unions would be able to fill the void left by quarantined senior players.

But the issue is far more complex.

"There are a couple of factors to take into account," said Rathbone.

"Consider the front row. If you have a 19- or 20-year-old prop that hasn't been cleared by SA Rugby's BokSmart safety regulations, he's not allowed to play at senior level.

"We - and by extension other teams too - have tried to limit the number of players at training sessions with the exact aim of trying to minimise the potential for players infecting each other. It's about minimising risk.

"When you also start having training squads of 60-plus players, where almost half can expect not to play regularly, you have the problem of having to keep all those players quarantined too. It's just not worth it."

Contractual obligations also play a major role.

"The majority of your junior contracts run out at the end of October. So most of the Under-21s one would've seen in action in the provincial championship aren't in your employ anymore.

"You're left with a significantly smaller group of junior players and most of your new recruits only report for duty in January. You're player corps is actually not as big as one would believe," said Rathbone. 

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