Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, said that none of the national schools tournaments – for U13, U16, U18, Academy Week and LSEN teams for boys, as well as the U16 and U18 national weeks for girls – will take place this year.
“This decision, while very unfortunate as we really love to see our best age-group players in action, follows careful consideration of our learnings during the last few months, during which SA Rugby delivered a number of international tournaments and competitions during a local pandemic,” said Roux.
“This included the Castle Lager Lions Series, two Tests against Argentina, Springbok Women’s Tests, and the U20 International Series. Our decision to suspend the Youth Weeks for 2021 also follows feedback from the provincial unions – who have experience on the ground of delivering Covid-19 rugby matches.”
The South African Schools Rugby Association (SASRA) endorsed the decision.
“While it’s bitterly disappointing that the Youth Weeks had to be cancelled again this year, the bigger picture is the welfare of our players and other factors that we can’t disregard, including academics. We are approaching the year-end exams, which are very important, especially for our matric learners,” said Noël Ingle, Chairman of SASRA.
Roux pointed to the need to keep the current COVID strategies in place: “We at SA Rugby are not near to relaxing our COVID-19 testing strategies to ensure we best mitigate the spread of the virus within the competitions and tournaments we manage.
“In order for any participating team to safely compete at a tournament such as the Youth Weeks, the same considerations apply without any negotiations to participants safety and wellbeing, to mitigate the potential of transferring the virus. This includes testing, a hard bubble, integrity of tournaments and matches and the very real aspect of finance.”
Roux said matches between U18 sides that had already been selected could continue, but only if staged under the auspices of the respective host provincial union, which would include enforcing the same return to play protocols being adopted at Carling Currie Cup Premier and First Division, and U20 Championship level.
SA Rugby also urged all stakeholders to take great care when organising or participating in any festivals, tournaments or weeks currently being planned for.
“We are cautioning stakeholders on the participation of any other schools tournaments, festivals and multi-day events because of the logistical challenge of a non-provincial union entity managing COVID-19 at a tournament, the administering and costs of testing players and the potential numbers that would participate at a festival versus what is allowed as per the government Gazette,” said Roux, who added that the focus should now move onto hosting successful events in 2022.
“We must now focus on wrapping up the 2021 season in the midst of the pandemic, and continue planning for 2022 where hopefully we would be able to establish and delivery Youth Weeks tournaments along with all other SA Rugby tournaments and competitions properties,” Roux concluded.