A lot of people have lost their jobs, businesses have folded and some are lucky to still be standing on their feet. What makes it worse is the fact that it doesn’t look like we are getting rid of this virus anytime soon. While we are happy with the recovery rate and the dwindling numbers of new infections, we remain mindful of the fact that this battle looks winnable, but the war is far from over. Yes, we are on a recovery phase as things were really bad in the last 12 months or so. At one stage, we even doubted if the then Absa Premiership season would be finished, as the outbreak of this virus happened smack-bang in the middle of the season. Credit to the work done by the government, SAFA, the PSL, clubs and everyone involved, we managed to witness the remainder of the last Absa-sponsored season and, boy, was it an exciting photo finish!
It was all done under unprecedented circumstances, with our teams playing in a bio-bubble. Again, a lot of work went into this from all parties involved and they deserve a lot of credit for it. Since then, we’ve seen a massive improvement where the country was moved from Alert Level 5 of the lockdown to Level 3 and eventually to Level 1. In-between the different lockdown stages, a number of regulations have been eased – leading to much more freedom of movement and the resumption of economic activity – as we slowly transition back to normal life. Social gatherings are now permitted and the number of participants has been increased to 100 indoors and 250 outdoors. It is almost back to normal life for most sectors and that’s good because that goes a long way in putting food on the table.
Having said that, on the football front, things remain as they were when we were on Level 5 five of the lockdown. As much as restrictions continue to be eased, nothing has changed for us. You’d think maybe, just maybe, our government would consider allowing 20-30% capacity into our match venues, especially now that we are on lockdown Alert Level 1. Of everyone in the country, I feel football supporters have been the most marginalized! Yes, it is gazetted by the government that no supporters would be allowed at the match venues when they allowed for the resumption of professional football, I get that this wasn’t promulgated by the PSL, but surely, if 250 people are allowed at small outdoor venues, nothing stops our government from doing the same at bigger match venues, provided all the COVID-19 regulations are adhered to. For instance, 5 000 supporters in a 40 000-capacity venue can’t pose a threat to the adherence to the COVID-19 regulations. If people are allowed to party at taverns and clubs, sometimes with complete disregard for the stipulated regulations, I don’t see why no provision has been made for football supporters.
We are not calling for capacity crowds, no, just a manageable number of football supporters, who have been deprived of an opportunity to watch and support their teams. Surely that is a reasonable request and should be considered by the powers that be because even they support the game and understand how this stadium blackout has affected the supporters. Football isn’t the same without the supporters and this doesn’t only affect the fans but the players too and ultimately the game. No one wants to play practice matches and be excluded from official and competitive games. I’m sure the players sometimes don’t even know the difference between official and practice matches now. While the supporters can hear the ‘makeshift’ supporters on their television sets, the same can’t be said about the players on the field. All they hear are loud screams of instructions from their coaches, players calling for the ball and the drowning noise of the ball from one end of the field to the other. In a stadium, supporters can manage the required social distance, enjoy the game and create the atmosphere conducive to great football and that will benefit everyone involved in the game. This will also help the teams, especially those without sponsors, to enjoy a little bit of an income.
I don’t understand why football supporters don’t seem to be considered at all when it comes to easing back to normal life. This is happening with professional football only, it seems, because a number of Local Football Associations have started their leagues, with the supporters flocking into the match venues. No one knows for sure what happens at those venues when it comes to the regulations as the main focus has been on players and the supporting staff. They are the ones who have done tests and been instructed to adhere to the regulations. Now, are you telling me it is safer to go to an LFA match than it is to a PSL’s? Surely something doesn’t add up here. There are thousands of people who attend these games, some without even masks on, and it seems like life goes on. What about football fans who want to watch their professional teams at the stadium? Why has there not been a single word on plans to allow them back into the stadiums? Yes, I understand that we can’t have full-capacity crowds and I also understand that the League wouldn’t want to open doors and then close them again, but surely, something has to be done to accommodate the supporters. We can’t continue to suffer like this, when everyone else is enjoying a breather. It is even worse that football journalists are also not allowed into match venues. We miss the game and hope someone is listening!