CAPE TOWN – The South African government maintained a ban on all contact sports competitions on Saturday because of the coronavirus, meaning the country's professional rugby teams and its world champion Springboks will remain out of action.
The announcement by sports minister Nathi Mthethwa came as South Africa prepares to further ease lockdown on Monday and open up most of its economy as part of a phased relaxation of restrictions.
Professional non-contact sports competitions will be allowed in some regions and Mthethwa gave permission for teams, including those in rugby, to resume training. But only if protocols are in place to minimize the chances of transmission of COVID-19. All teams have 14 days to submit detailed plans on their protocols for approval before they can train, the minister said. Conditions include the mandatory screening of athletes.
South Africa Rugby CEO Jurie Roux welcomed the move as "an opportunity for our players to enhance their lockdown training regimes by increasing their fitness work for an eventual return to play.” He added he would seek clarification over whether full-contact training would be allowed.
South Africa's Super Rugby teams have been out of action since the southern hemisphere club competition was postponed in mid-March. The Springboks' July matches against Scotland and Georgia, the first time the national team was scheduled to play since winning last year's World Cup, were postponed as World Rugby announced its entire mid-year test window would be rescheduled.
Cash-strapped SA Rugby has announced salary cuts of between 25% and 43%, including for its players, this month in an effort to save up to $70 million.
Hopeful, SA Rugby had approached the government with plans for a return to playing, with Roux saying earlier this month “the risk of transmission could be well managed by our protocols.”
“We do not run hospitals or build ventilators and we are not an industry that is critical to the South African economy, but we do believe that we add huge value to national life in other ways," Roux said.
Mthethwa will allow professional non-contact sports like golf, tennis, cricket, athletics and swimming to go ahead from Monday, without spectators and under strict conditions.
However, no sporting events can take place in designated “hotspots" because of their high COVID-19 infection rates. They include almost all of the major sporting cities: Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth.
South Africa has more than 29,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the most in Africa, and 611 people have died.
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