Treat professional sport like a saint, not a sinner

Mark Keohane, writing for Cape Times and IOL Sport

You didn’t have to be in South Africa after the Springboks won the 2019 World Cup to know the impact sport, and especially sporting success, has on South Africans. It determines the Monday mood.

In these crazy last 70 days, many of them spent in an unconstitutional lockdown, sport is the one escape so many of us crave.

Freedom of movement has in the last two and a half months largely been curtailed. In some instances, there has been logic in regulations relating to Covid-19. Mostly, however, there has been nothing but personal preference and militant and dictatorial designs on how we are supposed to live, think and tolerate a situation that demanded more empathy towards this country’s citizens.

Professional sporting teams and domestic professional competitions are fighting for survival because of the absence of matches, of paying spectators and because of the potential loss of sponsorships, investments and financing from broadcasting deals.

The South African government has as much a responsibility to assist the major sporting role players in this country, as it has a moral duty to all South Africans to exercise their constitutional right to participate in sport.

Golf, for example, remains on the banned list. Unless you are a professional golfer? The absence of golf has nothing to do with Covid-19 and everything to do with perceived privilege that only the entitled play golf.

I don’t play golf but I don’t see why anyone should be prohibited from participating in a recreational sporting activity, where there is physical distancing, limited social interaction and no crowd attendance.

Equally, swimming or running or tennis or … pick your sport.

The government regulations around sport have been absurd.

In three to six months, corporate and sporting leaders are going to look back and know how duped they were in the greatest overreaction in modern civilization.

Traditional digital media, with its added global reach through billions of social media accounts, have feasted on hysteria, fear and uncertainty.

This has extended to sport.

Yet, in those countries where sport is again being played, fear-based projections, much of it the interpretation and expression of the unknown as fact, have proved to be without substance. Professional soccer in Germany has been played for the last month and rugby league in Australia for the past fortnight.

The result has been … just that … a sporting result.

New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams have been in training for the past fortnight and they will play their first competition matches on June 13th. They will also play in stadiums that will have no restrictions on the paying number of supporters.

Life is normal and the new normal is that there is constant reinforcement of basic hygiene and consideration for respecting the space of the person next to you, behind you and in front of you.

Sports participation, among the citizens, is done through reasonable and rational application. The citizens are trusted to regard their own safety, as much as that of the next person.

It isn’t a revolutionary thought, but one that should always find favour in a civilized society.

The importance of the professional sporting codes has also been acknowledged through funding from the government, with this support aimed at easing the financial impact of Covid-19.

The NZ government called the Sports Recovery Package an investment as part of their revised Budget 2020, with Sport NZ CEO Peter Miskimmin saying the investment ‘acknowledges the critical role these professional franchises play in entertaining New Zealanders and in uniting communities, as well as inspiring young people.’

Miskimmin added that it was not typical of professional sport franchises to receive government funding, but that there was an understanding from the government of the financial losses these professional codes had suffered.

But here’s the rational kicker: The government also understood the contribution of professional sport to sector and regional and national economies.

South Africa’s professional sporting landscape right now needs a similar investment from the government because if professional sport is economically vibrant, then the South African economy is a beneficiary of this strength.

Just think of the economic gains to South Africa when the British and Irish Lions visit in 2021. South African Rugby president Mark Alexander, when the Lions schedule was announced, insisted the legacy of the tour would be reflected in job creation as much as the series result.

Projections, said Alexander, were that 13 300 temporary jobs would be created, with many evolving into sustainable and permanent jobs. There would also be a R450 million tax benefit to the government and significant economic benefits.

Professional rugby, as just one example, gives such a boost to the South African economy. It should be protected and not punished.

Professional sport must be viewed as a saint and not treated as a sinner.

Equally, the citizens of this country, when it comes to them wanting to participate in the sport, be it a game of tennis, squash or, dare it be said, golf.

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