CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) – Golf, cricket and rugby became the first major sports to be hit by the new type of COVID-19 on Friday, raising fears that travel restrictions and brand-new events could be disrupted as their return to normal neared. years in the epidemic.
European golfers pulled out halfway during the season-opening DP World Championships in Johannesburg, trying to get flights out of South Africa. Visiting cricket and rugby teams did the same.
Golf was the first to hit the emergence of the new variant B.1.1.529, and it was initially identified in South Africa, raising concerns about its possible transmission over existing variants and vaccine resistance.
It has already been discovered in Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium, as well as several other countries in South Africa.
Organizers said that while the start of the World Tour was in shambles, South Africa’s rugby matches in a new tournament between Europe and South Africa were postponed “due to surprising developments”. The Indian cricket team’s tour to South Africa is likely to be reconsidered next month, although there is no official comment yet.
The Dutch cricket team, which is already playing in South Africa, is considering canceling the remaining matches and returning home early. The Royal Dutch Cricket Association said it was studying options but it was “unlikely” that it would find flights any time soon.
“The physical and mental health of the players is the first priority,” the federation said.
Organizers of the Joburg Open golf tournament, which began Thursday, said it will continue even after at least 23 European players withdraw over the next few hours. South African health authorities announced that they had discovered the new alternative. Organizers said the tournament was later scaled back to a three-round, 54-hole event that ended on Saturday “to help non-South African players and tournament support staff return to their home countries”.
The Joburg Open will be the first of three events in South Africa to start the new season at the circuit formerly known as the European Tour. But next week’s South African Open will now be just a tour of South Africa, where international players are likely to return home to bypass travel restrictions. The Alfred Dunhill tournament scheduled for December 9-12 has been cancelled.
Many of the players who pulled out of the Joburg Open were from Great Britain or Ireland, who responded after the British government announced it would again ban visitors from South Africa and five other South African countries from 4am on Sunday. Returning residents will be subject to mandatory 10-day quarantine periods at designated hotels.
The European Union and the United States later said they would suspend air traffic from South Africa as countries around the world began imposing new travel restrictions.
Irish golfer Paul Dunn, one of those who pulled out, told RTE he could take a trip home via Dubai and that the only one available now runs through Ethiopia, where a year-long conflict threatens the capital, Addis Ababa. .
“No one imagines traveling there,” Dunn said. “Part of a minefield now.”
Not everyone has left. Scottish golfer David Drysdale said he decided to continue playing at the Joburg Open and then stay in South Africa with his wife, who also works in a buggy, and vacationing there.
“Most of the British players have decided to go home and that is perfectly understandable if you have a wife and children at home,” Drysdale told The Scotsman. “There was no seat (on a plane) available by the time we found out what had happened. A lot of the guys panicked, but we thought, ‘What’s the point?’
“We are staying with our buddy in Joburg and our plan is to stay until Christmas and then go home. Hopefully this swing isn’t as bad as they were afraid… It’s been less than 24 hours since we heard this.”
Four rugby teams – two from Wales, one from Ireland and one from Italy – also tried to repatriate from South Africa before being given a chance to play after their matches were postponed by the United Rugby Championship.
Welsh club Cardiff said: “With the situation in South Africa changing so rapidly, we are now looking to get our squad back as quickly as possible.”
There have been repercussions for other events in other countries, such as the Women’s Cricket World Cup qualification tournament in Zimbabwe, another South African country on the new travel ban list. Nine national teams, including the United States, play in that tournament, which runs through December 5.
With just over a month left until the Africa Cup of Nations, Africa’s premier soccer tournament, looms as a potential problem after being postponed for a year due to the pandemic.
The 24-team tournament will be held in Cameroon, and only two South African nations, Malawi and Zimbabwe, have qualified. But the Africa Cup will be hit hard as European countries expand travel restrictions across Africa.
And the best European football teams, especially those in the English Premier League, have previously banned their African players from traveling and playing for their country due to the risks and quarantine periods imposed on them upon their return.
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