South Africa’s two major winter sports, football and rugby, have suspended all competitions in line with national and global directives for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, and they are the hardest hit.
The entire rugby industry started pay cuts to about 1,500 people employed in the sector this month, which includes players. Along with other cost-cutting measures, rugby intends to trim R1-billion off its annual costs if there is no further play possible in 2020.
Football has not taken a collective bargaining position at this stage, but individual Premier Soccer League (PSL) clubs have started to cut staff wages. Leaders in both sports have indicated to Daily Maverick that they are hoping to return to the field of play by July. That remains unlikely under the recent lockdown grading system, which President Cyril Ramaphosa revealed two weeks ago.
The country is currently on Level 4 lockdown, the second most severe, with Level 5 the hardest. For organised sports to resume, Level 1 is required and with daily numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths as a result of Covid-19 increasing, it’s unlikely Level 1 can be reached in two months.
The South African Football Association (Safa) has followed the directives of national government, while SA Rugby has done the same. Safa has confirmed that it understands Level 1 needs to be reached to resume competition.
The PSL has had no choice but to toe the line, although chairman Irvin Khoza is desperate to restart the league. The PSL has been working on a proposal to allow it to recommence at Level 3.
Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa gave a glimmer of hope at a media briefing on Monday where he said he would engage with football’s leaders to discuss the matter and take guidance from them.
“Regarding football, we will be dependent on Safa as the mother body of football in the country and the PSL, with the hope they will guide government,” Mthethwa said.
“I have been in contact with both the Safa president [Danny] Jordaan and PSL chairperson Khoza and said to them, I need their wise counsel as leaders in football on the reopening or softening of lockdown [regulations] with our risk-adjusted strategy.
“We’ve convened meetings with both of them. Khoza and the Kaizer Chiefs chairperson, Kaizer Motaung, informed me that they are having a board of governors meeting on Thursday and they will come up with suggestions.
“It would be advisable that as government we get one voice from them [Khoza and Jordaan] and that is where we are. On the point of playing behind closed doors, two months ago on the football front, we decided to have a meeting with the president of Safa, Mr Jordaan, and the chairman of the league, Mr Khoza.
“We discussed everything about football and my final message to both of them was that they are occupying a very important space in our society with regards to football. As the minister of sport, I would nudge them to work together at all material times for the sake of football.”
Other sports have also engaged with the ministry about returning to play, Mthethwa revealed.
“There are others who have come to us and pleaded their case and golf is one of them,” Mthethwa said.
“They motivated strongly that the nature of their sport is not a contact sport and in terms of the regulations – the metres between people – they fit in. It would be easier for them to adhere to [physical distancing]. We are looking into that.”
Rollout of funding for sportspeople begins, but DA is cautious
Mthethwa confirmed that 93 sportspeople from varying codes had been issued grants of R20,000 each from the R150-million relief fund that government made available on 15 March. Each application is interrogated by a sport adjudication panel, whose measurement criteria have not been made public.
He said another 200 grants were due to be paid soon, but he failed to address whether the amounts were adequate to cover sportspeople and whether these were once-off payments.
There were also 1,050 applications adjudicated for grants from the Arts and Culture sector, with more than 600 rejected.
“The number of people who were not recommended is huge, and we are concerned that such a huge number did not succeed,” said Mthethwa.
“These applications come from historically disadvantaged communities, and it is people who desperately need this assistance.
“At the same time, through the adjudication panel, we have to do due diligence to ensure we adhere to the agreed-upon criteria, but we are really concerned.”
Even if a total of 400 grants are paid, it comes to around R10-million, out of a budget of R150-million. This is a concern for DA shadow sports minister Tsepo Mhlongo.
“Clearly, this panel appointed by the minister has no capacity to do its work,” Mhlongo told Daily Maverick. “Roughly, the ministry promised to give R20,000 to athletes which amounts to about R5.6-million.
“For Arts and Culture, the amount granted is approximately R4.4-million. That totals about R10-million for both sport and arts and culture. What is going to happen with the remaining R140-million?
“When is the minister going to make sure that the R150-million is distributed to relevant applicants? The technical personnel issue is not clarified; the minister must tell the nation how are they going to benefit from this funding.
“Minister, I personally smell corruption in this process because you are very slow in dealing with these applications. You don’t bring hope to the affected athletes and artists in our sector.”
Mhlongo wants the director-general to oversee the process and the auditor-general to audit the process to “encourage transparency.” DM
95% - the percentage of all thoroughbred racehorses that can be traced to a single 18th-Century stallion.