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Easing of South Africa's strict lockdown will not apply to sport

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The expected lifting of lockdown restrictions in South Africa at the end of the month is unlikely to result in a resumption of sport and will add to frustrations in a country besotted with both football and rugby.

Sport in South Africa and across the world has been shut down since March by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country itself has been subject to a stricter quarantine that will have lasted five weeks by the time it is scheduled to be lifted on April 30.

South Africans have been ordered to stay at home, save for essential workers and short trips for grocery shopping. Matters have been made more difficult by a blanket ban on the sale of both alcohol and tobacco and a prohibition on all sports activities, including a simple walk or bicycle ride.

A draft government presentation, seen by Reuters on Wednesday, is considering some flexibility but suggests any gathering of more than 10 people will be prohibited for an indeterminate period in an effort to keep the infection rate down.

This will come as a blow to football and rugby, who were both hoping to get their seasons back underway.

South Africa’s Premier Soccer League was on the cusp of a potentially exciting title run-in with the country’s best supported club, Kaizer Chiefs edging closer to ending a five-year trophy drought.

Soccer clubs drawn their majority of their revenue from a lucrative television rights deal and been largely untouched by the coronavirus lockdown but keen to resume, even if behind closed doors.

But if the game remains in lockdown, South African Football Players Union president Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe told Reuters he expected to be negotiating with clubs about possible wage cuts sooner rather than later.

“We have flagged it but we are not yet at that point,” he said.

Rugby has a greater reliance on gate takings and already announced it will seek to cut spending by 1 billion rand ($52.82 million) over the next eight months, having reached an agreement in principle with various stakeholders for pay cuts, including the players’ union and employees.

It also announced plans for a one-off six-team domestic competition between June and August, but this is now likely to have to be shifted back.

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to announce the new plans in an address on Thursday.

($1 = 18.9315 rand)

Writing by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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