BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
SOUTH Africa-based Zimbabwean football stars will this week take a major step towards returning to competitive action when they start training, in anticipation of the resumption of the South African Absa Premiership, which was halted by the Covid-19 pandemic in March.
South Africa’s Sport, Arts and Culture minister Nathi Mthethwa announced yesterday that contact sports such as football and rugby can resume fitness training only‚ exercising strict regulations laid out in the country’s new level three national lockdown regulations.
However, contact sports remain prohibited from staging matches in South Africa‚ even behind closed doors‚ but Zimbabwean football stars plying their trade in the country will be delighted at the news that they can at least resume non-contact fitness training although under stringent conditions.
South Africa has recorded more than
29 000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the worst in Africa, and 611 people have died.
“All sporting codes would be expected back at training‚” Mthethwa said.
“You would realise that our athletes have not been in training‚ and you would not want them out of shape forever. So the process of training would ensue for both contact and non-contact sports.
“From the point of view of non-contact sports, it’s both training and resumption of play. But from contact sport, it’s only at the training level.”
The resumption of non-contact fitness training appears to pave the way for the South African Premiership to return to matches behind closed doors from level two of the lockdown.
The South African top-flight league is hoping to resume the 2019/20 season by July 1, according to the football website KickOff.com.
The Absa Premiership in South Africa is home to 29 Zimbabwean players, including several players, who are regulars in the Warriors squad.
The possible return of the South African Premiership is a major boost for the duo of Khama Billiat and Willard Katsande whose side Kaizer Chiefs was closing in on the 2019-2020 Premiership title before the Covid-19 chaos.
Amakhosi are currently on top of the league standings as they look to end their five-year trophy drought with Sundowns a close second.
The resumption of the league would also be an opportunity for Billiat to redeem himself after a disappointing season by his standards due to injuries and loss of form.
The Kaizer Chiefs forward, who is the highest-earning player in the Absa Premiership, had scored one goal in 13 league appearances for the Soweto giants when the season was halted in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Several Zimbabwean professional football players plying their trade in Europe resumed training last week as they also brace for the resumption of their respective leagues.
Warriors defender Tendayi Darikwa resumed training with English Championship side Nottingham Forrest on Monday after spending 10 months on the sidelines due to a serious knee injury.
Darikwa has not played any competitive football since undergoing surgery on his right knee after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury on the eve of the season in August and has yet to feature under the club’s new boss Sabri Lamouchi.
Highly-rated striker Macauley Bonne also trained a day later with his side Charlton Athletic as he looks to continue where he left off after a storming start to life in the Championship — scoring eight goals and providing two assists in 24 appearances so far.
The duo’s return came after midfielder Marvelous Nakamba started training with Aston Villa just over a week ago, in preparation for the return of the English Premiership next month.
Nakamba’s Aston Villa are scheduled to host Sheffield United at home at Villa Park on June 17.
Warriors defender Teenage Hadebe, who plays for Yeni Malatyaspor in the Turkish Super Lig, was one of the first Warriors to resume training early this month with the Turkish Football Federation announcing on Thursday that the top-tier Super Lig games would resume on June 12.