Football and Rugby wait for more clarity after latest lockdown protocols
South Africa’s two major sporting codes – football and rugby – are still waiting for clarity from government about return to play protocols. On Thursday President Cyril Ramaphosa declared that a hard lockdown, in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus, would gradually be eased in the coming months.
Despite some easing of restrictions, using a sliding scale from Level 5 (total or hard lockdown) to Level 1 (almost pre-coronavirus “normal” but not fully) there was no clarity on a time frame for professional sports to return to play.
SA Rugby and the entire industry have already laid out a contingency path for the rest of the year. If there is no rugby played in 2020 they have budgeted for cuts of R1-billion, which is a worst-case scenario. Part of those cuts (approximately 12.5%) will come from players’ wages.
Football has yet to formally announce pay cuts but individual Premier Soccer League (PSL) clubs such as Amazulu and Cape Town City have introduced wage cuts.
In rugby, the President’s speech on Thursday has almost certainly been the death knell for the 2020 Super Rugby tournament. With no open borders likely for some time and the restrictions of movement between provinces still in place, no rugby can be played. And that’s not even taking into account that mass gatherings are still prohibited on Level 4 and even down to Level 2.
Both rugby and football are not yet ready to invoke the force majeure clause in their broadcast deal contracts with SuperSport until they have a clear return to play date from government. That return could mean playing sport behind closed doors, with strict coronavirus protocols, which is something both football and rugby are open to considering.
Force Majeure does nothing more than buy time – up t0 90 days to rectify a contract breach, from the usual 14 days. Which is precisely why both sports don’t want to invoke it, while the broadcasters remain on side, until they have a precise view of the landscape and know when they might return to the field.
SA Rugby have put in place various scenarios, which remain unchanged after President Ramaphosa’s latest speech.
The most unlikely is an immediate return to play scenario, with all relevant health guidelines. The outline and theory have been approved by World Rugby and has been presented to South Africa’s Minister of Sport, Nathi Mthethwa, but it is only a pipe dream.
Given the current situation the best outcome for both sports is that they are allowed to play behind closed doors from July 1, which is 11 weeks away.
Rugby has planned a domestic competition featuring South Africa’s four Super Rugby franchises – The Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers and PRO 14 teams the Cheetahs and Southern Kings. They could play through July and August on a home and away basis.
Daily Maverick has learned that the plan is for the Currie Cup to start in September, but if needed, it could even start in October and run through to the middle of December in these exceptional times.
The Springboks also have three Tests scheduled in July, which are highly unlikely to go ahead at this stage. If travel restrictions prohibit those matches against Georgia and Scotland being played, that is the most likely moment SA Rugby would invoke force majeure.
The South African Football Association (Safa) have been reviewing some tournaments and warned of massive losses if the situation continues. It has also approached government and the sports’ ruling body Fifa, for relief funding.
“The SA government through Minister of Sport and Fifa has established a programme for relief funding for sports federations,” Safa said in a statement this week.
“The President of Safa (Danny Jordaan) participated in a meeting with Fifa this past Monday to update the world football governing body on the impact of Covid-19 in the country and specifically football. Both the SA government and Fifa have undertaken to provide relief funding and we await both decisions from the two.
“The broadcast revenue environment in South Africa has only one significant contributor – SuperSport. The pay-per-view channel is therefore the biggest benefactor to South African football and also the greatest risk for SA football.
“SA football and sport in general (football, rugby and cricket) will have a major impact and subsequent losses if SuperSport’s ability to continue to pay broadcast rights fees is compromised. We can therefore expect revenue losses of 40-60% to sport if this happens.
“The international programmes of Safa have been under pressure because of the Covid-19. In a normal year, club football ends in June and international competitions like the Olympics, CAF competitions are played in June and July.
“Fifa has postponed the calendar weeks in March and June to provide for club competitions to complete their season. Covid-19 has also resulted in postponement of African Cup of Nations (Afcon) and World Cup qualifiers.
“Safa therefore understands the first priority is to get club football under way as soon as it is possible. We await further announcement from the government and Fifa to indicate when it is safe to resume domestic competition.” DM
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