ECONOMY

World Rugby Champions Face Empty Stadium in First Pandemic Match

South Africa’s national rugby team will play its first international match since the coronavirus pandemic began before an empty stadium on Friday as a third wave of infections rages in the country.

The Springboks, as the 2019 World Cup champions are popularly known, will play a warm-up game against Georgia’s national team in Pretoria in South Africa’s richest province, Gauteng — the epicenter of the latest surge in infections.

The British & Irish Lions start playing South Africa’s provincial teams in the Castle Lager Lion Series on Saturday and will later face the Springboks three times between July 24 and Aug. 7.

With South Africa under lockdown, the games will be played in empty stadiums, depriving the nation of income from home supporters as well as thousands of British and Irish fans who normally travel to watch Lions’ series. More than 342,000 seats were filled in 2017 when New Zealand hosted the games, and almost 26,000 visitors traveled to that country.

“The world we live in currently is very different to the world two years ago,” South African Rugby Union Chief Executive Officer Jurie Roux said in an emailed response to question. “It’s now pointless to talk about what we might have made and how much we might have lost because of Covid, because that world is gone.”

SARU cut costs after the pandemic struck, which limited its loss to 7.9 million rand ($553,000) last year, even though broadcast and sponsorship revenue fell to 669 million rand, compared with a forecast of 1.3 billion rand. It expects income to recover to 1 billion rand this year, though that’s still below pre-pandemic levels.

Recorded daily new cases in South Africa hit 21,584 in July and hospitals are filling up. Most cases have been recorded in Gauteng, driven by the delta variant first discovered in India.

In the lead up to the match, the Springboks were forced to cancel training on June 27 and put their squad in self-isolation after three players tested positive for Covid-19. Practice has since resumed in preparation for the Lions tour.

“We have had great support and understanding from our partners and while the values we have been able to attribute to those partnerships have declined, and our budgeting focus has switched to making sure that we do realize some kind of profit,” said Roux.

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