Coronavirus has hit South African sport

Cancelled: the Cape Epice mountain bike race

South Africa is one of the most sports-crazy countries in the world. Until a month ago, no-one could have predicted the devastating effect that the coronavirus would have on the country’s normally lively sports calendar. Not only has the popular Super Rugby tournament been suspended but the world-famous Cape Epic mountain bike was called off just 40 hours before it was due to start on 15 March 2020.

In addition, the equally renowned Two Oceans Marathon that would have taken place on 11 April in Cape Town has been called off, dealing a blow to the city’s tourism-oriented economy.

“We have been monitoring the status of the novel coronavirus pandemic as events have unfolded internationally and locally and we’ve consulted with public health experts and authorities,” stated Two Oceans director Debra Barnes.

“The health and safety of the competitors, staff, sponsors and the global community are paramount and an event of this scale poses far too great a risk to continue. Guided by this priority and global best practice, the TOM NPC has made the difficult decision to cancel the world’s most beautiful ultra-marathon for 2020.”

The cancellation of the Cape Epic mountain bike event has been a particular disappointment, especially for overseas competitors. One Swedish amateur participant, Hampus Rinne, complained that the decision to cancel had been taken too late, costing him and others significant amounts of time and money for nothing.

“We have all the facts now, so it’s easy to say what should have been done in retrospect, but I really think the Cape Epic should have called it off earlier.

“They should have reconsidered because of all the cyclists from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada who have come over here. Maybe the Cape Epic should have followed the news a bit closer, although South Africa has not had a huge breakout yet.

“We don’t know, but the law of averages would suggest that at least some of us who came here for the Epic are carrying the virus.

“My manager at work said to me that if I came to South Africa there would be a problem. And guess what? He was right. That’s perhaps the worst thing – going to my boss and saying he was right.”

Rugby is South Africa’s national sport. Not only is it a topic of daily commentary in all the media, but there are various betting sites in South Africa offering odds on matches.

It therefore came as a major shock when it was announced on 19 March that SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby) would call a halt to all Super Rugby events. Super Rugby is the biggest rugby tournament series in the southern hemisphere and its fifteen top-notch teams regularly fill stadiums, as well as generate millions of dollars in advertising revenues and sponsorships.

SANZAR CEO Andy Marinos stated, “the safety and welfare of the public, our players and other stakeholders is paramount and as previously stated we were always going to abide by government and health authority instructions on the issue of COVID-19 containment.”

“We are extremely disappointed for the players, our fans, broadcasters and partners but given the complexity of our competition structure, and the multiple geographies that we cover, we have no other option but to align with such directives. We also believe it is time for all those players currently overseas to return home and to be with their families.”

“Our priority is, therefore, to ensure our players are within their homes territories from the end of this weekend. SANZAAR will also remain engaged with its stakeholders and will continue to explore avenues to see if we can keep the rugby product alive within our core markets, with the possibility to be in a position to resume the tournament if at all possible in future weeks. We have currently played seven rounds out of the 18 in the normal regular season”.

Rugby Australia tried to set up an alternative, local competition, envisaged to start on 3 April but this too had to be suspended until 1 May at the earliest after the Australian government and various state and territory governments implemented further measures to counter the spread of coronavirus.

The total lockdown that started on 26 March in South Africa has equally made any further rugby games, local or international, well-nigh impossible.