PRETORIA, June 1, 2020
What follows is an open letter from the CEO of Tennis South Africa to the wider South African tennis community:
- So CEO what have you been doing for the last 6 weeks? I thought you were fighting to get grassroots tennis back?
- Why can we run, walk and cycle on roads in close proximity to each other, but can’t play singles tennis on a tennis court that measures 23.77m from baseline to baseline?
- TSA seems to have made a strong proposal to national government that clearly demonstrate that, with the right protocols in place, tennis is a low risk activity – why is this not being considered?
- Why, when so many other countries are opening up amateur or grassroots tennis, is South Africa not being allowed to do the same?
These are just some of the questions I am currently being asked by members of our wider tennis community, after today’s media briefing by the Honourable Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture.
This is what we currently know in terms of tennis:
The level 3 regulations and the associated directions from the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture will allow:
- Tennis to host behind closed doors professional tennis events.
- Professional tennis players to return to training.
- Facilities for the training of professional tennis players to be allowed to reopen as long as they comply with all health protocols.
- However the hosting of professional events and the return to training of professional tennis players is dependent on government approval. More specifically, TSA must ‘within 14 days after the official publication of the Minister’s directions, inform the Minister in writing as to the date of resumption and further provide an operational guideline, including a guarantee in the form of affidavits related to the testing of all officials’. This means professional tennis players CANNOT return to training on the 1st June and will have to wait a bit longer to get back on court.
There remain some grey areas within the context of the resumption of non-contact sport that will hopefully be clarified in the written definitions document from the Ministry – especially in reference to the word professional.
We wait to formally receive this document, but believe, based on today’s media briefing, that the definition of the word professional will cover both ATP, WTA and ITF tour players, as well as athletes preparing for international and national championships. This is a critical point because it would clearly broaden a return to training for more tennis players – including both junior and senior players training to play in TSA national tournaments.
So – with the 1st of June in mind – what does this mean for clubs re-opening and for coaches who do not coach professional tennis players?
Mass participation or amateur participation in tennis for recreational purposes is not currently allowed under the level 3 regulations.
This means that unfortunately, clubs will NOT be able to open and these coaches will NOT be able to return to work on the 1st June.
However this may be subject to change in the coming days.
So where to from now?
We fully respect that safeguarding public health must be our government’s number one priority, but the reality is that the sport of tennis is a low risk activity and ALL areas of our tennis are ready to return to training and playing:
- TSA has put together a comprehensive risk mitigation strategy that incorporates global guidelines and international best practise.
- A comprehensive COVID-19 coach regulation and player contact tracing process is now in place.
- Finally, COVID-19 compliant club venues have been identified.
Yesterday, nine non-contact sports federations – including Tennis SA – issued a joint statement appealing to our national government to consider the economic impact of restricting organised sport in South Africa. I expect this collective lobbying and pressure to intensify in the coming days because there are thousands of livelihoods at stake across all areas of the local sports eco-system.
The risks of job losses across our industry remain real and frightening. Golf, swimming, gymnastics and tennis combined create 72 000 jobs in South Africa.….many of these jobs are in the grassroots and amateur areas of our sports. That is just for four sports in South Africa…..imagine the total number across all 76 official sporting codes in our country.
Some of you reading this letter desperately need to get back to work, to put food on your table, and so none of this will be of any consolation to you. However TSA will keep fighting for our sport. We are committed to getting clubs re-opened and ALL coaches back to work as soon as possible.
Saturday’s announcement signals that a window has been opened in our locked room and some light and fresh air is starting to return to tennis. It is not enough. But it is a start. In the coming days we will work to open more windows and ultimately that locked door.
CEO of Tennis SA.