Winners and Losers as Varsity Sports Suspended

Staff Writer, 5 May 2020

It is a mix of relief and heartache for Cape Town universities after Varsity Sports organisers decided to suspend all rugby competitions – as well as all other sporting codes – for the remainder of the year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision to suspend all sport tournaments, including those of other codes, was taken on Monday 4 May, after a meeting between university representatives and the Varsity Sports executive committee – which consists of multimedia rights holder Advent Sport Entertainment and Media (ASEM), University Sports Company (USC) and University Sports South Africa (USSA).

“It is unlikely that any normal sports tournaments will take place within the next 10 months,” ASEM chief executive and former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar was quoted in the official statement. “We have, therefore, taken a principled decision to suspend all our sporting activities across universities until 2021.

“Our priority is to ensure the safety of our athletes and spectators, while also allowing universities and schools to return to the academic year. We will, however, remain ready to host certain tournaments should government regulations change regarding the hosting of sport events and academic calendars allow for tournaments to take place.”

Like most sectors, higher education institutions have had to suspend contact operations for the foreseeable future as an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, opting instead for remote or flexible learning.

All four Cape Town universities were deeply involved in the Varsity Cup – South Africa’s premier university rugby tournament – as well as in the Varsity Shield, a lower division.

Before the tournament was halted in March, the Maties from Stellenbosch University were cruising on top of the Cup, demonstrating all the signs that they would retain the trophy, while the Ikey Tigers of the University of Cape Town were challenging for a semi-final spot. The University of the Western Cape were on the wrong side of the log standing, fighting tooth and nail to avoid relegation.

In the Shield, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology were sitting in fourth position, and were in good stead to reach the semi-finals as they battled to earn promotion to the Cup.

But all that has disappeared into the thin air: suspension of the rugby tournaments means there will be no team relegated from the Varsity Cup competition and no promotion/relegation match between the Varsity Cup and Varsity Shield competitions. 

Instead, Madibaz from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth will be promoted from the Shield to the Cup next year, as they had already achieved an unassailable log-points tally on the combined Varsity Shield 2019/2020 log.

Therefore, there will be 10 teams in the Varsity Cup for 2021. In short, this means UWC will live to fight in the Cup for another season, while CPUT will battle for promotion in the Shield again next year.

ASEM will continue to monitor government regulations and is committed to ongoing communications to all stakeholders.

“Our focus now is to work with our commercial partners, USSA and the USC to develop the best possible calendar for 2021 and reintroduce a fresh, new sporting landscape for youth sport,” Pienaar added. “People remain our main priority and the health of our staff, the well-being and academic success of our athletes and supporters will always be placed first.”