Minister greenlights sports to continue behind closed doors

Government is not against sports matches and activities continuing behind closed doors — provided they strictly adhere to health and safety measures — until further notice. That was the crux of the message delivered by Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa at a gathering of sports stakeholders on Tuesday afternoon. For all intents and purposes, the stance is a green light for competitions such as the PSL to go ahead should they decide to do so.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening banned all gatherings of more than 100 people, meaning most sporting bodies have been forced to suspend all activities while they further evaluate the developing situation regarding the spread of the coronavirus. 

“Do we stick to what we do and love at the expense of losing everything?” Mthethwa asked at the beginning of the meeting, which was attended by leaders of all the major sports federations. “At the Cabinet meeting it was said that sports and recreation is going to be the hardest hit sector. We live through gate entrances and tickets. In the absence of which we are going to be battered.”

Yet his message before and after the consultation remained the same: we need the nation’s sports people to deliver messages of safety guidance to the millions that look up to them. Provided they do so under strict conditions, the minister said there should be no reason why fixtures should not continue behind closed doors as early as “tomorrow”.

Mthethwa’s logic did not go unchallenged, however. SA Football Association president Danny Jordaan, for one, took the opportunity to repeat his organisation’s stance that a closed-door strategy is not effective and advisable. He referenced leagues in England, Germany and Spain that all toyed with the approach to varying degrees but eventually were forced to temporarily call off games altogether.

PSL chairperson Irvin Khoza, meanwhile, made an impassioned plea to the minister to reveal any long-term strategies the government may have. He said the PSL would struggle to make informed decisions if it did not have certainty to take to sponsors, organisers and board members. Mthethwa said the situation was a fluid one and that the government would continue to monitor it.

All eyes now turn to the PSL’s board of governors meeting on Thursday to decide whether the country’s most popular sport will continue.

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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