Cricket Australia defends position as South Africa slams tour decision

Cricket Australia (CA) has today (Wednesday) maintained it had “no choice” but to postpone its forthcoming tour to South Africa, a decision that Cricket South Africa (CSA) has heavily criticised amid what it claims were the implementation of “unprecedented” COVID-19 protocols.

South Africa are currently touring Pakistan and were due to face Australia at home in a three-Test series spanning March 3-25, with the games to be played at SuperSport Park in Centurion and the Wanderers (pictured) in Johannesburg.

However, CA yesterday announced that due to the public health situation in South Africa, which includes a second wave and new variant of the virus, it had “become clear” that travelling to the country at this time presented “an unacceptable level of health and safety risk”.

Speaking today, CA interim chief executive Nick Hockley said that alternative hosting arrangements of shifting the series to Australia, specifically Perth, or the neutral venue of the UAE, were not viable. “What happened during the process is really two things,” he added, according to ESPNcricinfo.

“South Africa very sadly have hit the peak of their second wave, and then secondly we’ve got the more virulent strain, which there’s still lots of unknowns around. So as we’ve worked through the residual risk and also some questions and challenges around if we were to get a case how and when we can get our players back home, taking advice of medical experts and putting health and safety absolutely No. 1, we were really left with no option.”

In the wake of CA’s announcement, CSA stated its “immense disappointment” at the news, stating the decision will land it with a “serious” financial loss. CSA said it was particularly disappointed given that South Africa recently hosted Sri Lanka in a bio-secure environment (BSE) at Centurion, with no breaches of protocol. Currently the Pakistan women’s team are touring the country in a secure BSE in Durban.

CSA’s chief medical officer, Dr Shuaib Manjra, added that there was not much more CSA could have done to appease CA. He said: “The protocols we had proposed to CA were unprecedented. Firstly, we had agreed that our own Proteas team would enter the BSE 14 days prior to the arrival of the Australian team, thus altering their planning during the current tour of Pakistan.

“Amongst some of the other key arrangements made were that all four areas (two hotels and two venues) had a protocol to implement a strict BSE with no contact with anybody outside this area. We subsequently agreed to two separate BSEs and had granted Australia full and exclusive use of the Irene Country Lodge, which we shared with Sri Lanka, with a minimum staff present on site.

“In terms of the arrangements, the Proteas were to move to a separate hotel altogether. Furthermore, all hotel staff, match officials and even bus drivers were to enter the BSE 14 days prior to Australia’s arrival.

“In addition, CSA had also committed to importing an Australian tracking system at great cost to ensure proper tracking of close contacts in the event of a positive test. The touring team was also going to be granted VIP access through the airports, after government intervention to ensure this privilege.

“These are just some of the protocols that CSA was to put in place. We had really gone the extra mile to make sure that the tour would proceed.”

The end of the Australia tour will reportedly result in losses of between ZAR30m (£1.48m/€1.67m/$2m) and ZAR40m for CSA, which has already projected losses for the current four-year cycle of between ZAR654m and ZAR1bn.

Pholetsi Moseki, CSA acting CEO, said: “It is indeed sad that after all the engagements and effort made to ensure a secure visit by our Australian counterparts, the tour has been derailed. CSA has incurred significant costs related to the planning stages and the cancellation of the tour represents a serious financial loss.

“In this challenging period for cricket and its member countries, we believe the stance taken by CA is regrettable and will have a serious impact on the sustainability of the less wealthy cricket playing nations.”

Image: Charles/CC BY-SA 2-0/Edited for size