Rugby and soccer only likely to return at level 1, says department

Nathi Mthethwa Pic: CISMedia

The sport, arts and culture department has said that R200m has been set aside so far to assist athletes and artists affected so far by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a briefing on Saturday morning, Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa began by honouring the legacy of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who celebrated their 60th birthday on 28 May.

He confirmed that during the lockdown, there had been no activity in his sector to date, but his department would deal with the return of professional non-contact sport that had been gazetted as part of the relaxation of regulations.

“The announcement of amended regulations under level 3 [starting on 1 June] is indeed going to see the gradual introduction of various sectoral activities, but under strict adherence to safety measures, as outlined under the disaster management regulations.”

Professional athletes would be allowed to return to training whether they were in contact or non-contact sport, but return to play for contact sports like soccer and rugby would have to wait to resume competitive play. The department’s director-general, Vusumusi Mkhize, said it was envisaged that this would probably only be possible again at level 1.

The department said it was important for all training to resume for all codes so that athletes could stay in shape.

Some of the non-contact codes included tennis, cricket, chess, athletics, golf and other delineated codes, but at a smaller scale than normally allowed and subject to further Covid-limiting adaptations.

The director-general said there had been a lot of debate about allowing surfing and swimming for the public at amateur level, particularly around whether sea water and chlorine killed the virus, but surfing and swimming at professional level was already covered by the current regulations. It would only be allowed for elite athletes and professional athletes earning a living from their sport.

The department said the guidelines were clear that “mass participation for amateur purposes” would still not allowed. Recreational sport would not be possible, but people could remain fit by taking part in fitness training as long as they were not in groups.

Only faith-based institutions would be allowed to gather groups of people of 50 people or fewer, while sports grounds, fields and swimming pools could resume use, but without spectators.

In accordance with national general regulations, athletes in hotspot-designated areas would not be able to travel to a non-hotspot area, added Mkhize.

Within 14 days of the directions being published, sport bodies and professional clubs would need to apply for permission to resume activities. Athletes and support staff looking to resume operations in non-contact sport would need to be willing to be subjected to 14 days of quarantine to then be declared Covid free before being allowed to resume.

Strict directions would also have to be adhered to for athletes and support staff, including on transport, hygiene and screening protocols, said the minister.

All facilities would need to be strictly sanitised – from door knobs to toilet handles and computer equipment – and there would need to be a limit on the number of personnel allowed in a facility at any time.

All those involved would need to wear masks according to the overall level 3 directions, though professional athletes would be allowed to go mask free while training or participating in their matches.

“Physical distancing during training must be encouraged and observed,” said Mthethwa.

Ice baths, saunas, massages and physiotherapy would not be allowed, except for injured players.

Sporting groups would need to write to the sports department to declare that they were free of Covid-19, “to the best of their knowledge” and that they hadn’t been exposed to anyone with the virus within a 14-day period.

Compliance officers would need to be appointed by every sporting group applying for a resumption of activities.

Earlier, he had applauded the sports and arts sector for the “discipline demonstrated since the commencement of the lockdown period”.

“The 100% adherence to the lockdown regulations by ensuring that no sectoral activity takes place during this time has indeed played a tremendous role in assisting with the reduction of the spread of Covid-19.”

Relief

Mthethwa also discussed what had happened after the announcement of a R150 million relief fund to assist “artists, athletes, technical personnel and the core ecosystem of the sector nationally”.

“The other part of this fund was open to proposals for livestreaming the work of creatives and athletes, particularly intergenerational cooperation between younger artists and the legends. This work has started.”

MECs in all provinces had since announced their provincial relief funds to assist athletes and artists at that level.

“These funds amount to more than R50 million combined. We thank them for their commitment in serving the sector. If you add this amount to the the one announced nationally it is more than R200 million at the disposal of the sector. We have agreed with the MECs in our consultative meetings we’ve held that if a person receives funds from one level, he or she may not be assisted again at another level, eg, you get financial assistance from the national relief fund, the province will then be exempted from providing you with financial assistance and vice versa.”

Teams of independent adjudicators had been working tirelessly to ensure that as many people as possible received relief during this time.

Sport adjudication process

The sport adjudication panel was the first to be appointed on 9 of April, and the first to begin adjudicating, as well as the first to complete the process, said the minister.

“As it stands today, the total number of sport applications received is 470.”

The number of approved and paid sport applicants was 296 and 174 were declined.

“A total of 26 appeals have been received and the appeals committee has sat this week to review those 26 appeals. Ten were successful and three were rejected. There were two successful applicants who appealed but were rejected as they had already received funding. The remaining 11 appealants still have information outstanding.”

Arts and culture

The arts and culture adjudication process was not without its glitches, said the minister, who added that the department had rectified those and had made significant progress.

“The original number of successful applicants was 1,250, but the high number of those rejected compelled us to set up an appeals process to give a platform to those who were not recommended, for their case to be heard by an independent appeals committee.

“As a result, the number of successful applicants has increased to 1,520, therefore reducing the number of those not recommended from 1,930 to 1,660 and counting. The number will continue to change because of the 1,284 appeals emails that have been received to date.”

The panel had attended to 698 and 270 of those had been successful.

“1,050 had been sent for payment by 26 May. However, that number has since increased by 270 as of 29 May, which came from successful appeals, thus bringing the number ready for payment to 1,320, of which 592 have already been paid. The balance is being attended to every day.”

He said that on 6 of May, the department had a successful meeting with the sector, “especially the key national organisations in the sector to look at how, within the legal parameters, we can ensure that those who really need the assistance, especially from the disadvantaged communities, receive funding”.

They met with the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of SA, the SA Music Industry Council, the SA Screen Federation, the SA Arts and Culture Youth Forum, the Independent Black Filmmakers Collective, the SA Roadies Association, the SA Musicians Support Association, Children and Broadcasting Service SA and the National Clap and Tap Arts Council.

He thanked them for the cooperation and assistance.

“We have subsequently beefed up our mechanisms in order to fast-track the process. Adjudication has been closed and the department, with the help of an independent committee, is finalising the appeals process.”

(Compiled by Charles Cilliers)

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