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South African rugby in crisis without the fans

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Government authorities have to support the SA Rugby’s proposed plans to accommodate spectators at matches, writes MARK KEOHANE.

SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux credited the national team’s biggest sponsors for sustaining the professional game in South Africa.

COMMON sense has to prevail when it comes to getting rugby fans back into the stadiums – and the government authorities have to support the SA Rugby’s proposed plans to accommodate spectators at matches.

More people frequent shopping malls every day in every suburb in the country. The flow of people at shopping malls, which totals thousands, isn’t regulated.

The hope is that every individual acts reasonably and responsibly. The hope is that each person is taking every precaution for themselves and also for the next person they may pass.

It is the hope but it isn’t the reality because everyone who has walked through the shopping malls will know that social distancing isn’t maintained.

However, shopping malls continue to function without question, yet professional sport in this country continues to be played against the backdrop of empty stadiums and professional franchises suffer financially with every match played.

SA Rugby Union Chief Executive Jurie Roux last week said the continued absence of fans at rugby matches would be the death of several professional franchises.

Roux, in a recent interview, credited the national team’s biggest sponsors for sustaining the professional game in South Africa as rugby’s leadership explores every option to survive the economic crisis that has come with Covid-19, the initial lockdown and the absence of fans from matches.

Roux confirmed that while SA Rugby has lost in excess of a R100 million in sponsorship revenue in 2020, the loyalty shown from broadcaster Supersport and the major sponsors like SAB, FNB, Samsung, Energade, Outsurance, ASICS, MTN and Vodacom has allowed SA Rugby to financially support the professional franchises and provincial unions.

However, Roux stressed that the assistance could only be short-term and that the professional game in South Africa could not be sustained in the current climate.

Roux and a working committee will present the government with a plan to open the stadium gates to fans for the 23rd January’s Currie Cup final.

The confirmed second wave of the pandemic will complicate SA Rugby’s bid but it should not scupper the belief that it is possible, even during the second wave, to allow spectators to the ground.

We’ve seen it done in Australia and the United States and the United Kingdom, where between one and 10,000 fans have attended matches where the ground capacity is anything from 50,000 to 80,000.

For example, a crowd of 5,000 in a 50,000 outdoor facility, spread out to all corners of the stadium, would be less of a risk than the thousands who stroll in and out of shopping malls every day.

Rugby, like cricket and soccer, is in the trenches and the motivation from the government has to be to make fan accessibility to stadiums a reality.

There has to be calm in the decision-making from the government’s Pandemic Task team and there has to be a genuine desire to want to find a solution in getting fans back into the stadiums, even if it is in multiples of 10 and not 10,000.

@mark_keohane