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Expecting fanatics to enjoy sports from a distance is cruel and inhumane

Many countries have experimented with different ways of allowing fans back into stadiums and there's no reason why an adaptation of those methods couldn't work in SA, says Sande Masapu who is in dire need of a fanfare
Thu, Feb 18, 2021

Carlos Tevez of Boca Juniors celebrates with fans after scoring a goal. PHOTO: Gustavo Garello/Jam Media/Getty Images

At the end of 2019 the England cricket team toured South Africa. However, I was unable to indulge in what is somewhat of a tradition for my sister and myself – attending the Boxing Day or New Year's Day test match at Newlands – because they had bought out all the tickets more than six months in advance. "No big deal," I thought to myself, oblivious to what was lying in wait for all the people of the world.

At the time of writing this, it had been 325 days since the hard lockdown was first instituted in South Africa. We are now firmly ensconced in the pandemic era, we have all made huge sacrifices and have adapted to life under Covid-19, and now many industries and organisations are in the process of returning to normality.

Then there's the sports world.

There is nary a hint of a plan from many of the sports bodies in this country. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to put any lives at risk unnecessarily, but if a hundred people can be crammed into a tiny restaurant without so much as a negative Covid test beforehand, why can't we start allowing fans back into the stands?

Malls are packed to the rafters (excuse the pun), like that's supposedly safer than having fans attending games at stadiums – where social distancing measures like spaced out seats, as well as proper ingress and egress controls are already in place.

Our biggest stadiums have capacities of well over 50 000, and allowing just 10% of the capacity is 5 000 fans. Many countries have experimented with different methodologies and I'm certain we could adapt any one of those to make it successful and effective for our situation – all it takes is a little courage and innovation.

For my own selfish interests, I need fans in the stands. "Pandemic era" sport is more of an exhibition than it is a spectacle, it's like the preseason, and sadly, the results show. The entire essence of home field/ court advantage has been lost. I'm not naïve so I won't overstate the role of fans – but in much the same way your favourite team's loss can make your day at least 5% worse, the roar of support from home fans can both galvanise the home team while simultaneously intimidating the visiting side.

This past year has made it abundantly clear that our beloved teams care more about sponsorships than they do about gate revenues, or our devoted acquisition of the latest team merch – the entire dynamic of sports is changing due to this extended 'fan lockout'.

Expecting fanatics to enjoy sports from a distance is cruel and inhumane. With all due respect (which means I've opened the door to all manner of disrespect), it's like when believers were limited to reading scripture without attending temple until recently. What many fail to appreciate is that the stadium or arena is our temple, and sport is our religion – and we are tired of 'worshipping' via Zoom or Teams calls.