Key health and safety considerations for the re-opening of sports stadiums

​​​The organisers of sporting events in stadiums, which were suspended in many countries because of Covid-19, will have to comply with existing health and safety legislation, municipal by-laws and Covid-19 protocols as events resume

South Africa is a sports-loving nation.  The country has hosted some of the biggest sporting events in the world and the sporting sector has evolved to assume an increasing economic, cultural and social role in society.  The country has proven its capabilities to host international sporting events such as the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003, the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007 and, most famously, the FIFA World Cup in 2010.  With world-class sports stadiums, South Africa is able to feed its citizen​s' passion for sport through local tournaments, events and derbies. The success of these stadium-hosted events can be measured by the following elements:

Elements that meausre the success of these stadium-hosted events


Covid-19 considerations

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in both global economic and social challenges.  The world of sports was negatively affected by the pandemic, as many countries implemented mandatory lockdown periods, following a massive surge in Covid-19-positive cases.  This resulted in many sporting events being postponed, suspended and even cancelled.

Over the last few weeks, some countries have started to allow non-contact sports and contact sports to resume. For instance, the English Premier League, certain golf tournaments and, more recently, sports matches and training in South Africa have resumed under strict health and safety restrictions. Despite the resumption, matches and tournaments have largely been closed to the general public.  Although this means that supporters are not allowed to attend at stadiums, health and safety requirements must still be complied with to protect all stakeholders involved (i.e. players, officials and the media).

As many more countries begin to ease lockdown restrictions, stadium-hosted events might also be allowed (even in South Africa). If this happens, it will be even more important for sports and event organisers to review their risk assessments and put in place measures that will help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in stadiums. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has provided guidance on the risk assessment that event organisers need to consider when planning gatherings such as stadium-hosted sports events. The risk assessments must include information on:


  • the overall risk associated with a mass gathering event
  • the risk of amplified Covid-19 transmission associated with the event
  • the expected burden on the healthcare system
  • the capacity of health authorities and event organizers to prevent and control these risks.

The table below sets out some of the measures that event organisers need to consider in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.  These measures are provided by the WHO and aim to reduce the spread of Covid-19 during mass gatherings such as stadium-hosted sports events.

RECOMMENDATIONS BY THE WHO
Measures to be taken prior to the event Measures to be taken during and after the event
  • Temperature monitoring at stadium entrances.
  • Ensure the availability of handwashing, alcohol- based hand gels and hygiene facilities at multiple locations in the stadium.
  • Ensure there is good hygiene signage across the stadium.
  • Prepare an isolation room or space to hold any spectators who may develop symptoms consistent with Covid-19 while they wait to be taken to a medical facility.
  • Provide first aid and medical services, including designated medical providers who are able to triage and refer suspected cases for Covid-19 testing.
  • Ensure there is sufficient personal protective equipment for the designated staff at the stadium.
  • Take measures to regulate the flow and density of people entering, attending, and departing from the stadium (i.e. by increasing the frequency of transport, staggering arrivals, designating seating etc.)
  • Social distancing measures - ensuring designated seats in the stadium with widely spaced spectators.
  • Adjust the official carrying capacity of the stadium.
  • Have contact tracing measures in place.
  • Take measures to regulate the flow of persons departing from the stadium to prevent crowding.
  • Ensure there is regular and thorough cleaning and disinfection of the stadium during and after the sports event.
  • Require everyone attending the event to wear a mask.
  • Arrangements should be made with health authorities regarding diagnosis and treatment of Covid-19 cases identified during the event.
  • Individuals who develop symptoms upon returning to their homes should be advised to contact public health authorities about their potential exposure.


Health and safety considerations in South Africa

Integral to a successful stadium-hosted sports event is having controls in place to ensure the health and safety of all those at the stadium.  This duty to ensure a safe environment extends to supporters, players, officials, security personnel and all other persons managing the stadium.  The Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act 2 of 2010 (SSRE Act) is the primary piece of legislation regulating stadium-hosted sporting events in South Africa. Section 4(1) of the SSRE Act imposes a duty on a controlling body, an event organiser, or a stadium or venue owner, to put in place the prescribed measures to ensure the physical safety and security of everyone at the venue.  The SSRE Act, together with Sports and Recreational Events Regulation 200 of 2017, provide the minimum health and safety standards which must be met before stadiums are open to the general public for sporting events.

South Africa follows a risk-based approach in ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to guarantee the public’s health and safety.  The National Commissioner is the regulatory body authorised to categorise the safety and security risks associated with each event hosted at the stadium.  The National Commissioner can categorise an event as low, medium or high risk.It is imperative that event organisers prepare a written safety plan which deals with various health and safety considerations.  This plan must be submitted to the National Commissioner for written approval.

Municipal by-laws play an important role in the legal framework governing stadiums.  The by-law which will be applicable will depend on the municipal area where the stadium-hosted event is taking place.

Employer duties in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 (OHSA)

The duty to provide a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health and safety of employees is codified in section 8(1) of OHSA which provides that "every employer shall provide and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to the health of his employees". Beyond this, the employer must ensure, among other things, that the following requirements are met:


  • the provision and maintenance of systems of work, plant and machinery that are, as far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health
  • taking reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or mitigate any hazard or potential hazard to the safety or health of employees, before resorting to personal protective equipment
  • providing the necessary information, instructions, training and supervision to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of employees
  • enforcing whatever measures are necessary in the interest of health and safety

With regard to providing a working environment that is safe and without risk, OHSA defines a workplace as "any premises or place where a person performs work in the course of his employment, but excludes a mine or mining area".  On this basis, a workplace may be considered to be any place where an employee conducts work, regardless of the location. Stadiums can be regarded as workplaces for purposes of OHSA, which means that stadium management will need to ensure compliance with the act.  The duties placed on stadium management in terms of OHSA are not absolute, but are based on the standard of reasonable practicability.  The safety standard of "reasonably practicable" in the context of OHSA is primarily based on four elements, which are:

(1) Severity and scope of the hazard or risk concerned  (2) Available information concerning the hazard or risk (3) Availability of means to remove or mitigate that hazard or risk  (4) Cost of removing that hazard


Stadium management also has a duty to ensure the general safety of other persons who are not in their direct employ.  These persons can include visitors or independent contractors performing certain services during the stadium-hosted event.  Under such circumstances, the stadium management, as the employer, has a duty to "conduct his undertaking in such a manner as to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than those in his employment who may be directly affected by his activities are not thereby exposed to hazards to their health or safety".

Although we are living in trying times, by implementing the measures detailed in this article, we may (in the near future) be able to enjoy sporting events again.