Opinions

Professional sport simply has to return to South African stadiums

Mark Keohane, writing for Cape Times and IOL in Keo’s Corner

The mentality in South Africa when it comes to sport has to be one of why it can be done and not why it can’t because of Covid-19.

Professional sport has to resume – and it can be done in a way that is responsible and reasonable. One glove is not a fit for everyone and one glove is certainly not a fit for every aspect of life in lockdown.

So many other countries have shown how when it comes to having live sport, be it in bio-bubbles, one province or region specific, without crowds, with restrictive measures and social distancing in crowd numbers or with capacity crowds, as we have seen since New Zealand’s introduction of Super Rugby.

Government and South Africa’s biggest sports federations, like soccer, rugby and cricket, have constantly been working on a return to professional sport. But it requires the media to play ball.

The media have a responsibility to also influence the positives in why it can be done and not add to the default of fear mongering and worst-case scenario reporting.

Reading the media reports generally, our only hope is to shut the door to our homes and never risk taking a breath again. So much of the paranoia is based on social media and the global reach of every thought that gets translated into a supposed opinion of authority and expertise.

Reasonable and rational are words one battles to find in the reporting, amid Covid-19.

Take the return of the English Premier League two months ago.

If it was up to the sports media, media in general and a social media so heavily influenced by the saturated negativity of the mainstream media, we’d not have seen another ball kicked in the Premier League, LA Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga.

The Germans were first to show a return to competitive professional football was possible. Spain and Italy followed and in England we have just witnessed the completion of an extraordinary season, given all the contributing factors of Covid-19.

Yet, in the build-up to the resumption of the Premier League, the media comfortably declared that the Premier League should be abandoned and that any resumption would add to life loss. The risks were said to be too great.

The livelihoods of players, coaches and everyone professionally involved in the sport appeared secondary to the easily bandied about term ‘life’. Equally, the commercial bloodline of the sport, broadcasting, was also easily dismissed in the name of ‘saving lives’.

Players from every club trained in isolation and every safety measure possible was put in place. In the first week, there were six positive tests in a 1000, with three coming from one club. The media headline was of the six that had tested positive and not the 994 negative results.

Once play started, the soccer result was reported on and not the lack of positive Covid-19 infections.

The horror reporting of a new wave, second wave and indefinite wave dominates when the reality of flattening of curves, improved recoveries and declining infections and deaths seldom get the prominence. The knock-on effect is the misguided interpretation that sport can’t return because of all the unknowns of Covid-19 that are presented as fact.

We simply have to get professional sport back into the stadiums in South Africa in the next few weeks. Local soccer is set for a return next week and rugby ideally has to have a domestic competition active before the end of the month.

The media, in reporting the why, has to be accentuating on the necessity that professional sport be played sooner rather than later.

The Springboks, World Cup and Rugby Championship winners in 2019, are expected to be in New Zealand in November and December to defend their title.

Everything must be done to ensure they don’t leave for New Zealand on a hiding to nothing.

And that everything means getting rugby’s domestic professional competition started before the end of August. The reward is far greater than any perceived risk.

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