It's been almost two years since South African fans were allowed in the stadiums. The sound of 'Impi" echoing through the stands at Ellis Park seem a distant memory, whilst the souties in Pretoria have almost forgotten the words to "Die blou bul eet nie van die vloer af nie ... Die blou bul weet nie van verloor af nie". Durban and Cape Town are feeling the pinch too.
Things are starting to improve though and South Africa with South Africa moving to level 1 restrictions, fans will now be allowed back into the stadiums, albeit with stringent conditions. Currently the Government Gazette makes provision for 2000 attendees, who are required to be fully vaccinated. This is a drop in the ocean for the 62 000 seater Ellis Park, a mere 3.2% capacity.
Alas, the United Rugby Championship is coming to town at the end of November and the likes of the Blue Bulls will host Munster, the Sharks will play the Scarlets, Stormers face off with Zebre and lastly the Lions will play the Cardiff Blues. In light of this, we were fortunate enough to attend the game at Loftus this weekend between the Carling Champions team and Kenya. Whilst we were treated to a try fest, 15 in total and the Champions side were victorious 85 - 17 in the sweltering heat, we also got to see what life will be like under the new normal.
We were advised to arrive early for the game in order to make sure we could get through security and Covid checks in time and we arrived 60 minutes before kick-off. This gave use plenty of time to make our way to the seats. On arrival there was a security check where temperatures were taken, sanitizer provided and tickets were checked.
After this we moved onto the next section. Here we were greeted by security who asked for our match day tickets, our ID documents which were inspected with a magnifying glass, and lastly for our vaccination passports. We were required to take the downloadable passport, with the bar code, not the card provided at time of vaccination. Some fans seemed to have taken the chance, but were turned away by security when they failed to produce a valid vaccine passport.
Once we got through the Covid screening it was almost business as usual. We walked to the turn styles, scanned our tickets and the long wait was over. We were back in Loftus and ready for the game. The toughest part of it all came when we were seated in the stadium and had to wear our masks the entirety of the game. As one can imagine I'm sure, sitting in 34 degree Pretoria heat like that is little fun. This aspect was well enforced by the Loftus security and families can feel assured that regulations are properly policed in the stadium to ensure everyone safety.
Whilst wearing the mask may be uncomfortable it is a small price to pay to be allowed to watch rugby again, or any sport for that matter. So here is hoping that more fans will be allowed to join in when the URC kicks off here on 27 November after Loftus and the Blue Bulls showed such an event can be pulled off successfully.