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JOVEL’INDUSTRY!

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My dearest readers ...

Isicathamiya might not be my favourite music genre, but South African legendary band Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s new song resonates with everything about the main subject on the State-of-the-Nation-Sports-Address (SONSA) this Tuesday morning.
“Let’s vaccinate, Stay alive Let’s vaccinate, Save South Africa. It’s not about you, it’s not about me, it’s about all of us. Let’s vaccinate.” Even with the prospects of sounding like a stuck record, I believe the vaccination programme issue is a very important one, especially given all the factors around it and the benefits accrued.

For 16 months or so, our sporting industry has been stagnant and some sporting codes grounded to an extent that they could be extinct. Thanks to the greatest enemy of our lifetime – the coronavirus, which has already claimed 1 172 lives in this country and 4.5 million in the world. But His Majesty’s Government has opened a window of opportunity to return our lives to normalcy with the vaccination exercise. The numbers though are still shockingly low. Currently, we have 12 per cent of the population vaccinated which equates to 208 541 doses of vaccine having been administered.

opened

The Minister of Health, Lizzie Nkosi, told the Times Sports Desk last Thursday that if we could increase the numbers to at least 400 000, many industries, including sports, could be opened. This is the challenge we face and a test we need to accept. It is an adversity we need to overcome. The return of international football, in particular, has been a sobering experience for all of us. Soccer fans have filled the cathedral of football in Europe to the rafters while our soccer widows have been barred from coming anywhere near our soccer stadiums. It has been a frustrating period for our super-fans because even that noble idea of live-streaming is not exactly the same as being at the stadium. Our stadiums have been quieter than graveyards. Even for us, hacks, the whole experience has been mind-numbing. It feels like you are attending a training session as you can even hear earthworms making small talk or engaging in some bedroom aerobics. Now get your mind out of the gutter. It is soulless; motionless and we dearly miss that moment of catharsis.

We have an opportunity now. Experts have indicated that if you are vaccinated, you have a 50 per cent to 80 per cent less chance of getting the virus. If you are vaccinated, you have 70 per cent to 85 per cent less chance of ending up in hospital. If you are vaccinated, you have 95 per cent less chance of dying. In the United Kingdom (UK) where we have seen soccer fans filling the stadiums to the rafters, 75 per cent of the population has been vaccinated. In our country, with vaccination rates still very low – 12 per cent – there are no prospects of welcoming back the fans into our stadiums especially given the talk of an impending fourth wave in the beginning of December. But we have an opportunity now if we all get vaccinated. It’s in our hands. We just need to play our part.

As Mail & Guardian writer Luke Feltham observed over the past weekend, there are a number of fence-sitters who are sufficiently scared of the jab that they would rather put it off. But South Africa just like United States of America (USA) President Joe Biden’s Government, which put up incentives in the region of US$100, is considering some ‘goodies’ to coax people to take the jab. The South African Football Association (SAFA) has indicated it is willing to put up a 50 per cent discount for tickets to Bafana Bafana’s next game against Ethiopia if government allows vaccinated fans back to the stadiums.

vaccination

Maybe that’s the route our football authorities must also take to encourage the nation to join the vaccination exercise and grow the numbers. That’s why it is important that government seriously consider using football to push the vaccination programme. I know the Eswatini Football Association (EFA) and its special member, the Premier League of Eswatini (PLE) have a waterproof plan in place to assist in this regard. The PLE Chairman, Mark Carmichael, has been very vocal about this kind of move to get football to play its part in the vaccination programme because it would definitely be a win-win situation for all parties involved. South Africa Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa calls it the ‘passing of the baton’ and the football authorities in our neighbours launched the ‘Return to Play – it’s in your hands’ campaign’ to try and grow the numbers of vaccinated people.

I beseech our government, football authorities and all key stakeholders to put their hands on the deck so that we can grow up the vaccination numbers. Vaccines saves lives. A return to stadiums and entertainment venues would evidently share the dual purpose of reigniting the sector’s economy and potentially, invigorating the vaccine drive. Let’s all JOVEL’INDUSTRY indeed ...

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