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South Africa and UK ramping up return to sport

Professional sport has been given an amber light to proceed in South Africa, though contact sports will have to lay out detailed plans to maintain player safety.

Image: Adam Davy

PROFESSIONAL SPORT IN South Africa was on Saturday given a provisional green light to resume training.

Sports minister Nathi Mthethwa said non-contact professional sport will be allowed under strict conditions, which include playing without spectators, while contact sports such as football and rugby will be able to resume training.

Mthethwa was speaking at a briefing to outline how sport would be affected by an easing of South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown which will come into effect on Monday.

Contact sports will have to provide detailed plans and get approval from the government to ensure the safety of players and officials before they can resume training, said Mthethwa.

“This allows us to begin to ramp up preparations for an eventual return to play,” said Jurie Roux, chief executive of SA Rugby.

Roux said rugby had already submitted a comprehensive plan to the government and was ready to begin medical screening of players immediately, which was one of the provisions mentioned in Saturday’s briefing.

All rugby in South Africa was suspended on March 18, disrupting the southern hemisphere Super Rugby competition.

International tours by Scotland and Georgia, which were scheduled to take place in July, have been postponed but Rugby Championship matches involving the world champion Springboks against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina during August and September are still conspicuously pencilled in.

South Africa’s Premiership club competition was also suspended during March but the Professional Soccer League hopes to complete its league programme by the end of July. League leaders Kaizer Chiefs had eight fixtures remaining when play was halted.

Meanwhile, the British government’s planned roll-out of resumed live sport was put in motion today as Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden, issuing the government’s ‘phase three’ guidance, said:

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“The wait is over. Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments.”

Horse racing is set to be the first major sport back in action at Newcastle on Monday, with the first Classic meeting of the season, featuring the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, on June 6.

Premier League football is scheduled to restart on June 17. 

The guidance, drawn up in consultation with public health officials and governing bodies, forms the third stage of British sport’s return from lockdown.

Stage two, which allowed for close-contact and competitive training for elite athletes, was published last Monday.

Sport has now moved closer to resuming, with Dowden telling a Downing Street press conference on Saturday: “I’m delighted to announce today that the government has published guidance which allows competitive sport to resume behind closed doors from Monday (June 1) at the earliest.”

As well as ensuring no spectators are present, sports bodies must also fulfil several other conditions if their events are to go ahead.

Everyone entering a venue must be screened for the coronavirus and anyone suspected of having COVID-19 must be placed in isolation.

It will now be up to individual sports to carry out their own risk assessments, with Dowden saying they “know their sport best”.

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