The contrasting approaches taken by SA Rugby and Cricket South Africa compared to the Premier Soccer League and the South African Football Association towards the coronavirus threat are illuminating, with football seemingly not convinced by the severity of the pandemic.

On Monday afternoon (March 16), within minutes of each other, South Africa’s three major sporting codes, soccer, cricket and rugby, issued their latest communiques about their approach to the threat of Covid-19. 

SA Rugby, which was party to the agreement to suspend Super Rugby, its major intercontinental provincial competition last Saturday, went further on Monday. It has basically locked down the sport at all levels for the foreseeable future. 

Cricket South Africa (CSA) also suspended all cricket under its jurisdiction for the next 60 days with the Proteas men’s team due back in South Africa on Wednesday 18 March following an aborted Indian tour. 

The Premier Soccer League (PSL), begrudgingly, agreed to postpone this week’s league’s fixtures but didn’t go as far as suspending the entire league. The PSL’s board of governors will meet on Thursday again to plot their next step in response to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of the coronavirus as a national disaster in South Africa

“This is a very challenging moment in the country’s history,” PSL chairman Dr Irvin Khoza said in a media briefing on Monday. 

“It is important for us as the PSL to adjudicate the matters raised by the president, and the role we can play to help get messages across to the public. 

“So that means matches in the midweek and this weekend are suspended. There will be a meeting of the executive on Thursday to discuss these matters once we have more information. 

“At the same time, the league took the decision that the MultiChoice Diski Challenge is discontinued immediately.”

This hesitant attitude came just days after the South African Football Association (Safa) issued a bizarre statement last Friday, in which it insisted that it was not yet ready to take drastic action because of the coronavirus.

The statement, not attributed to a single person, claimed that in its “considered view” the coronavirus pandemic would “improve rather than worsen”. What information they were basing that “considered view” on was unclear. 

“We wish to acknowledge that the Coronavirus is here with us,” the statement read. “A number of cases have been reported by the government and the health authorities. The sad news is that the number of people who have been affected by the virus is still growing at this stage. 

“However, the positive news is that the disease is not an epidemic in our country as yet. We have full confidence in our health authorities. We have seen critical patients getting better after coming into contact with the virus. 

“It is our considered view that there is no need to panic at this stage. The virus is not an epidemic yet. We are positive that the situation will improve rather than worsen. We believe that there is no need to either suspend or postpone the football program in the country at this stage.” 

CSA, which allowed games to go on until Sunday, had an emergency board meeting on Monday and decided to stop all play in line with the government’s approach to containing the virus. 

“We at CSA take this pronouncement by the president and the Cabinet very seriously and we will most certainly use our leverage to ensure that we minimise the impact of the virus in our spaces,” acting CSA chief executive Jacques Faul said. 

“Consequently, and during this time of absolute caution and surveillance, we would like to call upon all our members and affiliates to desist from taking part in any cricket related gatherings and other transversal events that will include the congregation of large numbers of people and/or up to 100 people.” 

SA Rugby will keep its offices open for operational matters but most staff will work remotely. More importantly, in line with Ramaphosa’s declaration, SA Rugby has suspended all competitions. 

Several Blitzbok and Junior Springbok squad players have also been tested for coronavirus after coming into contact with carriers. Members of the SA Sevens team that competed in Los Angeles and Vancouver recently, came into contact with Australian players who have subsequently tested positive. 

Several members of the Under-20 squad – who had travelled individually from clubs in Europe – will also be tested. 

Scheduled Springbok alignment camps, Springbok Men’s and Women’s training camps and the SA Rugby Under-20 preparations have all been suspended until 14 April. 

In addition, the SuperSport Rugby Challenge – scheduled to kick off on the weekend of 24/25 April – has been postponed until further notice and the club level Gold Cup competition is being reassessed with a view to a postponement. 

The Springboks’ Tests in July (against Scotland and Georgia), Youth Week tournaments and Currie Cup remain as scheduled but will be reviewed in April. 

The latest updates follow the suspension of Super Rugby and PRO14 international club competitions; the postponement of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series event for women in Stellenbosch, and the cancellation of two Under-20 international events featuring the Junior Springboks. 

 “The president has called on South African society to join together in fighting this pandemic and we will do everything we can to assist that campaign and protect the health of the rugby community,” said Jurie Roux, SA Rugby CEO. 

“Rugby is a sport with a high degree of physical contact and by its very nature is the opposite of the recommended ‘social distancing’. 

“We have therefore suspended all national team activities and instructed management to put athletes on individual training regimes – away from high-risk areas such as gymnasiums – to lower the risk of infection. 

“The intention is that they will resume group preparation from 14 April to allow two weeks’ of reintegration before taking on competitive action.” DM