As with all sectors in the South African economy, the sport sector is paying a heavy price currently thanks to the strict lockdown measures in place in the fight against COVID-19.
Gymnastics, in particular, provides full or part-time employment to approximately 3,500 people countrywide. More than that, we provide structured physical activity programmes for approximately 19,000 children registered at our clubs across South Africa.
If we don’t resume gymnastics activities in some form soon, many clubs will be forced to close their doors. We are cognisant of the need to play our role in curbing the spread of COVID-19, but we implore the government to treat each sport on a case-by-case basis. For the sake of the survival of the South African sports economy, the government should not look at sports as a homogeneous sector, but rather individually. We urge the government to work with us to keep our children physically active.
The South African Gymnastics Federations has done its homework and produced a detailed plan for the reopening of gymnastics across South Africa, which we submitted to the government. We feel it is essential to reopen the sport so that hundreds of clubs have the means to survive financially.
With all 350 gymnastics clubs in South Africa being self-funded, members of the clubs pay a monthly fee to participate in various gymnastics activities. Club owners, coaches, and their families depend on clubs being able to have classes and participate in events set up by the federation on national, provincial, and district level. Without members, these clubs will simply go out of business.
Of course, we understand and support the government's measures to slow down and prevent the spread of the virus, but our plan would minimise human interaction and therefore minimise the spread of the virus, while also allowing gymnastics and healthy exercise for everyone to continue. COVID-19 is posing a serious threat to gymnastics, as it is to many industries in South Africa and the world.
COVID-19, however, has also provided us with the golden opportunity to be innovative and do gymnastics differently. We are ready for “the new normal”. We are ready to adapt all our activities to ensure adherence to all safety practices. These include competitions where entrants don’t have to congregate in big crowds at tournaments in a conventional manner, but rather submit their entries via video.
We are ready to take gymnastics to places it has never been before. We also intend to use the digital environment much more effectively. Our training and assistance to clubs are already digital and we will extend this approach to coaches and judges training. Furthermore, we’ve submitted very clear guidelines as to how clubs could go back into training without compromising the health of any gymnast. The government’s COVID-19 measures make sense for some sports where maintaining social distancing is virtually impossible.
Anne Vermaak is the Chief Executive Officer of the SA Gymnastics Federation. She is a qualified physiotherapist, former international gymnast coach and club owner.