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Sports fans need not fear – there are ways to get the ball rolling again


There are ways of moving forward in this time of uncertainty, especially when it comes to sport

CAPE TOWN – The English Premier League is expected to be back on our television screens sometime next month.

New Zealand Rugby, by way of a Super Rugby tournament exclusive to the New Zealand five franchises, will commence in June and Australia’s National Rugby League is also expected to be competitive next month. Elsewhere in Europe and the US, players in different codes are back training. 

South African Rugby Union president Mark Alexander confirmed that the game’s custodians were hopeful of getting a domestic competition going by July.

All World Rugby guidelines in relation to Covid-19 would be followed. The guidelines are consistent with all world health advisories and in keeping with each country’s protocols.

For now, sport will be played in closed stadiums, with no supporters/fans attending matches. This is to limit the potential of secondary-wave virus infections.

Professional sporting codes, having been shut down globally for the past two months, cannot survive an indefinite period of inactivity. The broadcaster revenue, which is the economic heartbeat of professional sport, has to be secured. The only way to do this is to provide the broadcaster with content, by way of matches and events.

A more radical shutdown would also shut down sports broadcasters.

The sporting environment has been turned upside down. Nothing will be the same again. What it will look like on a sporting front, nobody knows, yet you wouldn’t think so if you followed daily media reports.

For the one report that preaches “all systems go” in six months, there’s another that fans will not be able to attend a sporting event for at least 18 months. Nothing can be said with certainty.

When will a vaccine be developed? What is physical distancing? If it is that you can exercise, run and walk in the same area but have to be a certain distance apart, then why can’t fans attend matches but be seated with physical distancing measures in place?

I was speaking this week to Allen Kruger, a leader in South African sports marketing and stadium management and marketing. Kruger was the architect in turning Natal’s rugby team from the amateur-era “Banana Boys” into the most recognised global provincial rugby brand, the Sharks. He is an authority on match day sporting occasions.

Kruger understands sporting events and he could write a thesis on fans who attend matches. He has experienced first-hand behaviour patterns among fans and also what constitutes a stadium hot spot, in terms of gathering and clutter.

Kruger, in a chat, questioned why the blanket view that “one size fits all” when it comes to the return of sporting events and fan attendance? Why couldn’t it be possible that entrance is restricted in numbers? Hundreds of thousands commute every day by public transport, even at the most intense time of lockdown.

What would make crowd attendance any different to the reality of public transport travel? If anything, limited, rational and restricted crowd numbers at a sporting event could never offer the same threat as mass cramming on public transport.

Kruger’s observation that physical distancing could be achieved if, for example, a stadium that seats 50,000, could not exceed 10,000 spectators and a seating plan could be configured to accommodate the regulated and advised distancing between people.

It is all do-able and possible, if reason trumps irrational, emotional thought and calm is applied to what can be done instead of defaulting to “what’s done is done”.

There are ways of moving forward in this time of uncertainty, especially when it comes to sport, the player, the occasion and the sporting fan.

Mark Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributor to Independent Media.