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Sports D-day . . . Cabinet set to make decision on public gatherings

BULAWAYO-Cabinet is set to make a decision on public gatherings when it meets today amid fears that sporting activities might be suspended as part of measures to control the spread of coronavirus.

Governments around the globe are battling to stop the spread of the pandemic and although no outbreak of the virus has been recorded in Zimbabwe, Cabinet could take a cautious approach and temporarily suspend public gatherings to minimise the risk.

There have been widespread cancellations and postponements of several sporting events worldwide and any suspension of public gatherings will affect all local sport, particularly football, which draws large crowds at stadiums around the country.

Europe’s top five leagues, the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1, have cancelled all matches until April 3, as infections and deaths rise on the continent.

The Uefa Champions League and Europa League have also been postponed.

The South African Premier League suspended its programme yesterday after the government banned gatherings of more than 100 people on Sunday.

Botswana’s topflight football league also followed suit yesterday.

A ban on large gatherings will certainly hit local football clubs as they’ll be obliged to keep paying players during the inaction.

Most local clubs largely depend on gate takings and a ban on fans attending matches will therefore hit them hard.

The Premier Soccer League, which is still finalising a sponsorship package for the 2020 season with Delta Beverages through its Castle Lager brand, said it will stand guided by today’s Cabinet decision.

“At the moment we haven’t had any reason to panic because we have no confirmed cases of the coronavirus. On the way forward, we stand guided by what the authorities’ resolve,” said Kudzai Bare, PSL spokesperson.

Footballers Union of Zimbabwe (Fuz) secretary-general Thomas Sweswe said it’s unfortunate that some clubs are not strong financially and those that were hoping to pay players from gate takings are doomed in the event gatherings are banned. 

He urged players to practice good hygiene whether or not the new season kicks off.

Zimbabwe Soccer Coaches Association (Zisca) secretary-general Oscar Mazhambe said coaches will have to revisit their programmes and ensure that they maintain the momentum they had picked. He called for the creation of awareness campaigns for fans, players and officials.

Sports gamblers that throng Bulawayo betting houses indicated that they have now resorted to the lotto since most sporting events around the world have been cancelled because of the pandemic.

Basketball Union of Zimbabwe (Buz) president Joe Mujuru said they have been discussing the possibility of postponing club and schools’ competitions.

“The NBA and other major leagues have already suspended their programmes and our position will be made after the Cabinet outcome on public gatherings. Although we might welcome the curfew, we don’t want to be alarmists. As it is, not enough information is available about the coronavirus hence we will follow the Government’s guidance,” said Mujuru.

Cosafa has postponed the 2020 women’s Under-17 Championship which was scheduled for Mauritius from April 17-26.

Caf pushed back the 2021 Total Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers that were scheduled for March 25-31 due to the coronavirus. Also postponed are Fifa’s 2022 World Cup matches that were slated for March and April.

Zimbabwe Cricket yesterday joined the growing list of sports code that have suspended their programmes due to the pandemic, announcing that they’d agreed on precautionary measures with Ireland to postpone the planned six-match series set for Bulawayo next month.

“We were looking forward to hosting Ireland in Bulawayo next month, but with the world in the throes of a public health emergency on a scale not witnessed in over a century, postponing the tour was the only reasonable decision.

“The mutually agreed decision to postpone the series is the right thing to do, given the worsening coronavirus pandemic and the overwhelming priority to safeguard the players, fans and the entire cricket community,” said ZC acting managing director Givemore Makoni.

Warren Deutrom, chief executive of Cricket Ireland, said this was the only reasonable decision in the present circumstances.

“We have taken the advice of Irish and British governments, as well as relevant health and sports bodies, and will take a safety-first approach to our operations over coming weeks and months. Apart from the players and coaches, it is the families and social circles that we are conscious of, and to tour at this point would cause unnecessary risk to the wider community,” Deutrom said.

English county cricket sides Derbyshire and Durham abandoned their tour of Zimbabwe on Sunday due to uncertainty around potential travel interruption caused by coronavirus.

Derbyshire were set to play six matches against Zimbabwe Select at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, but fulfilled only one T20 contest before a decision to return home was made. Chronicle

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