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South Africa opens borders but international sport remains locked down

Domestic cricket could resume behind closed doors but the MSL could be in serious doubt

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Spectators will not be allowed into stadiums even at Level 1 of the lockdown  •  Rodger Bosch/AFP

Spectators will not be allowed into stadiums even at Level 1 of the lockdown  •  Rodger Bosch/AFP

South Africa's borders will open for limited international travel on October 1, as the country further eases its lockdown regulations, but no international sport will be permitted just yet. Travel to and from other countries in Africa, for business or leisure, will be allowed but similar trips outside of the continent will be restricted. A yet-to-be-determined list of high-risk countries will be established by the government and travel to those countries will remain off limits.
The move to Level 1 (of five levels, with Level 5 being the strictest) comes six months after the country closed down in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. Non-contact sport was allowed to resume under Level 3, and contact sport under Level 2, but spectators will not be allowed into stadiums even at Level 1.
This means that neither South Africa's men's nor women's national teams will be able to host other teams or travel abroad, but domestic cricket could resume behind closed doors. However, the Mzansi Super League (MSL), the franchise T20 tournament that is going into its third season, could be in serious doubt because Cricket South Africa (CSA) had hoped to be able to stage it with fans in attendance.
A decision on whether the MSL would be played in its November-December slot was due to be taken mid-August but CSA has yet to secure broadcasting rights or a sponsorship deal and has been dealing with an administrative crisis. As yet, there is no indication of whether the tournament will take place. Similarly, CSA has not released any domestic fixtures although ESPNcricinfo understands it hopes to get the franchise competition underway in November. Typically, the South African domestic season aims to mirror the formats of international cricket (so if the national team is preparing for Tests, the franchise competitions will be red-ball focused) but with the international calendar unclear, that may not be the case this summer.
South Africa were hoping to host England for white-ball cricket before Christmas - and that could happen if restrictions are eased further - but the rest of their FTP is in limbo. Earlier this month, CSA confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that it is in talks with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for a possible men's tour in early 2021 but for that to take place, the national team will need to be allowed to travel as a group. While individual players have permission to leave the country for work purposes (11 South African players are at the IPL, a handful have traveled for county stints, and seven are due to play in the Women's Big Bash League), permission for a team to travel has yet to be given the green light. The national women's team was denied a request to play a series in England this month.
There has been no competitive cricket in South Africa since March, when the country went into lockdown, apart from an exhibition three-team match in July. The men's team returned home early from an ODI tour of India, had a white-ball tour to Sri Lanka and a two-Test-five-T20I tour of the West Indies postponed, and were also due to host India for three T20Is in August. The last of those was hoped to be a boon to CSA's coffers but has since been removed from the organisation's budget, suggesting the matches may not happen this season.
The national women's team has also had its calendar affected with a home series against Australia and a tour of the West Indies both called off, along with the false dawn of going to England, which did not happen.
South Africa has been among the worst affected countries in the coronavirus pandemic and has, to date, recorded the eighth-most infections in the world at 655,572 cases. The death rate remains relatively low at 2.4%. It has also had one of the strictest global lockdowns with a complete stay-at-home phase for five weeks from March 27 to May 1 followed by a gradual easing of restrictions. Outdoor exercise was permitted from May 1 and non-contact sports were permitted from June 1. As a result, domestic cricketers have been in training for several months and now await news on when they will return to play.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent