Mark Keohane, writing for IOL Sport and the Cape Times details the ridiculous, contradictory nature of Covid restrictions, which will see the British & Irish Lions tour South Africa to face the world champion Springboks without the presence of any fans.
As absurd as it was for the Indian Premier League to continue while most of India was burning because of a surge in Covid burials, it is equally absurd that South African sports stadiums continue to operate in isolation without crowds when the Covid numbers in this country have never been lower.
The British & Irish Lions in South Africa is the biggest rugby event of the year and among the top sporting events in the world in 2021.
It seems inconceivable that the Lions will play eight matches in South Africa, including three Test matches against the world champion Springboks, with barely a soul in attendance.
Where is the rationale?
Restaurants are packed. Shopping malls are packed and social distancing in shopping malls throughout the country is a romantic notion. I’ve ‘braved’ the shopping malls on occasion and I’d feel so much safer in a sports stadium, breathing in the fresh air and strategically seated in a cluster.
Why can’t it be done?
Why does there have to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach?
The biggest sporting event in South Africa since the 2010 Soccer World Cup has the potential to turn into an afterthought unless strategic savvy is applied to what should be the biggest adventure for South Africa supporters and those from the United Kingdom.
Britain in the past week has reported less than five Covid-related deaths. The famed traveling Lions support, all 40 000 of them, won’t be in South Africa in July and August. Billions of rands will be lost to the South African economy.
The South African Rugby Union had viewed the Lions visit as the financial prize to make up for the lost 2023 Rugby World Cup bid, when France bought the rights to host the event after an independent panel determined South Africa’s bid the best.
At a time when solutions should preoccupy every decision, it is like groundhog day in the perpetuation of a problem that isn’t the same problem it was a year ago.
When will there be an application of some sort of sporting normality and logical investment in ‘testing’ the waters when it comes to sporting events?
Why has it not been trialed over the past month or three?
Surely, a convincing argument could have been made to allow 5000 spectators, by way of an example, into a 50 000-seater stadium. Surely the thinking has to be ‘let’s put measures in place and actually see if it works’.
Instead, the situation is being treated as it was a year ago when the first wave of Covid in South Africa was at its worst.
The situation is as bizarre as the wearing of masks by players who sit on the sidelines, take off their masks, engage in contact where they are sweating all over each other, breathing all over each other, tackling each other, and when they come off the field, they put on a mask to speak to each other!
But to what point?
South Africa, as a country, has taken an economic beating because of a draconian approach. There have been no examples of occasion specific to try and get the best result for the country’s economy and the people’s sanity.
We have until the 3rd of July for the first British & Irish Lions match in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The challenge must be that come the arrival of the Lions, there is a wave of spectator presence and a wave of optimism that allows this sporting extravaganza to take its rightful place in front of real-time applause.
The Lions in South Africa is not made for television. It is made for spectators.