Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

When professional sport is eventually allowed to dust itself down, it is unlikely to do so with emotional fuel breathed from the terraces.

Covid-19 restrictions will uphold spectators’ persona non grata status at events intended for mass viewing. In fact, sports federations such as rugby have made peace with the fact that gate takings will not be an income stream for the foreseeable future.

In their representations to the government on how they will nudge back to the playing field in an orderly and carefully controlled environment‚ SA Rugby stressed that spectators do not form part of their return-to-play landscape.

SA Rugby do not want anything to jeopardise them presenting their broadcast partners something to air. Though they get a fair slice of their income from the proceeds passed down from SA Rugby’s broadcast deal‚ the individual franchises will, however, look to maximise every revenue source available to them.

They need to mitigate some of the losses incurred during the lockdown, and it is no wonder Lions boss Altmann Allers is keen to see some spectator involvement when play resumes. His argument is based on the premise that‚ even while social distancing‚ the size of your venue can dictate the size of your crowd. He argues that in the cavernous expanse of the 60,000-seater Ellis Park Stadium‚ social distancing is possible if the crowd number is limited.

“If your stadium seats 1,000 people‚ then maybe you can host 150 or 200 spectators. If you have a stadium that seats 60,000 people then surely you can get a few thousand in. There has to be a measure of logic in applying safety rules.

“It’s like saying only seven passengers can be allowed on a minibus and then you apply the same number to trains. That would make no sense. These are difficult questions but it doesn’t mean you have to come up with ridiculous answers‚” said Allers.

But who is to say the already fickle Lions’ support base will make the trek to Doornfontein? In 2019 the Lions averaged just less than 15,000 spectators for their home matches. It made up 15% of their income‚ excluding what they derived from their season ticket holders. Given those numbers, they could practise social distancing by occupying every fourth seat, but do fans want to run the coronavirus gauntlet?

A group of devotees calling themselves The Red Lions are ready to return to Ellis Park if they are permitted to do so.

“We will go‚ absolutely‚” said co-ordinator Charles Leonard‚ who described the group as “left-wing that transcends class‚ race and gender”.

“Just this morning I was talking to a colleague who said how much she’s missed going to Ellis Park. Sitting in the beautiful autumn sun on the eastern stand is an addiction. We are deeply loyal‚ despite some of the contradictions‚” said Leonard, who disapproves of the general direction the franchise is heading. He stressed, however, that for fans to be allowed back, they need to adhere to the rules.

“We are so keen to go back. We’ll be completely responsible. We are not in agreement with some politicians who want to break the lockdown.”