New Covid variant throws sport in South Africa into turmoil

The remainder of the Netherlands' cricket tour of South Africa is in doubt

The remainder of the Netherlands' cricket tour of South Africa is in doubt


JOHANNESBURG - South African sport was thrown into turmoil on Friday following the announcement of travel bans following the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus in the country.

Two rounds of matches in the United Rugby Championship were postponed, with two teams from Wales, one from Ireland and one from Italy all trying to return home.

There were numerous withdrawals from a professional golf tournament in Johannesburg, while two other tournaments in South Africa were negatively affected.

The Netherlands played a rain-hit one-day international against South Africa but the rest of their cricket tour of South Africa was in jeopardy.

The British government announced on Thursday that South Africa had returned to the ‘red list’ because of the spread of the new strain of the virus, B.1.1.529.

Travellers from South Africa, including returning nationals, will face a mandatory two-week quarantine period, while flights have been halted.

This was followed on Friday by a travel ban by several European Union countries.

Two Welsh rugby teams, the Cardiff Blues and the Llanelli Scarlets, announced that they were withdrawing from scheduled fixtures in the United Rugby Championship and were making plans to return home as soon as possible.

The United Rugby Championship (URC) later announced that all four matches scheduled for South Africa on Saturday and Sunday had been postponed, as well as fixtures for the following weekend.

Munster from Ireland and Italian team Zebre had also arrived in South Africa and the URC said arrangements were being made for all four of the visiting teams to return home as soon as possible.

Sixteen British players withdrew after the first round of the Joburg Open golf tournament, the first event of the new DP World Tour, and were expected to fly back to Britain to avoid having to spend time in quarantine.

The Joburg Open was co-sanctioned with South Africa’s Sunshine Tour and organisers announced that it would continue as an event carrying World Tour points.

But next week’s South African Open will lose its World Tour status and be played only as a Sunshine Tour event, while the Alfred Dunhill championship the following week, which was also due to be a co-sanctioned event, has been cancelled.

The Netherlands cricket team played the first of three scheduled one-day internationals against South Africa in Centurion on Friday but a joint statement from the boards of the two countries indicated that the touring team would return home as soon as possible.

But the fate of the tour had not yet been decided because it was “highly unlikely that the visiting team will be able to fly out of South Africa over the weekend.”

This opened the possibility that the planned second match, at the same venue on Sunday, might take place.

The third match was scheduled for Johannesburg on Wednesday.

The statement said a final decision on the remaining matches was expected “in the next 24 to 48 hours”.

The travel restrictions could also affect a Women’s World Cup qualifying cricket tournament in Zimbabwe, which is due to continue until December 5. Nine teams are playing in the event, including Ireland and the Netherlands from Europe.

Cricket Ireland issued a statement saying it was concerned about the latest developments and was in touch with the International Cricket Council and the Irish government. “Our decision-making will be first and foremost based on the health and safety of players and support staff.”


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