Coronavirus: The return of sport during this nightmare will bring some good - 9japarrot


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Sunday 31 May 2020

Coronavirus: The return of sport during this nightmare will bring some good

Image:Moenchengladbach's Marcus Thuram celebrates in front of the 'fans' in Germany

Life-size fan cut-outs or giant screens of cheering supporters help only a little but the return of sport is still welcome news.

Football phone-ins about no football, Formula One drivers racing via computer consoles and cricketers re-living their finest hours but not playing cricket - such has been sporting life in lockdown UK.

Monday's 1.00 race at Newcastle, the Betway Welcome Back British Racing Handicap, featuring some pretty ordinary horses, launches the return of professional competition.

"A significant moment for British sport," said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.

However, it received the government go-ahead with less than 48 hours to go - reflecting national nervousness.


With Premier League football to follow (in England but not Scotland), Formula One, and then golf, tennis and cricket, millions of TV screens will be re-tuned to half-forgotten channels.

There are good arguments in favour of bringing sport back to our screens now.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a "much-needed boost to national morale".

Barry Hearn, promoter of a snooker event starting at a bio-secure venue in Milton Keynes two hours after the Newcastle racing, spoke of sport "uniting a nation... a crucial factor in its mental health".

And live action should help inspire the young to become more active again, addressing a major lockdown concern.

All that being so, it arguably follows that there is merit in resuming sport in order to fulfil broadcasting contracts, thereby funding (in many cases) the continued existence of clubs, competitions, motor manufacturers and racing stables.

As jockeys at Newcastle will discover, fundamental changes have been made to keep sportspeople safe.

"Jockeys are encouraged," says a 33-page document from the British Horseracing Authority, "to be especially mindful of continuing pressures on medical and health services, and to avoid taking unnecessary or avoidable risks".

Does that compromise the integrity of the contest?

Yes, potentially, and so does the absence of football fans (a paltry eight home wins from 35 matches in the restarted German League), but integrity comes second to safety right now.

Image:Conor Coady of Wolverhampton in action during the UEFA Europa League

Some footballers were fearful of returning even to training.

"We all thought it was going to be a nightmare," said Wolves captain Conor Coady, "but honestly it's been absolutely fine."

Sheffield United's Oliver Norwood added: "There's nothing more that could be done for us."

Image:Fans were streamed live on the sidelines when AGF and Randers FC met in Aarhus, Denmark

Is it all worth it? Does it avoid a risk to the rest of us?

Yes, says England's deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam, on the basis that the group of elite competitors is too "tiny" for a coronavirus outbreak among them to affect the R rate.

The broadcast product will feel starkly different. No fans, no celebrations, precious little passion.

Image:Cardboard cut-out fans could become common sights for months if not years

Thousands of life-size fan cut-outs (Moenchengladbach), giant video screens of supporters cheering from home (Denmark) or artificial crowd noise (Australian rugby league) help only a little.

There will be pluses though. Football clubs may allow us extras like half-time player interviews, and golfers look set to wear microphones when the European Tour resumes next month with the British Masters.

Innovations like these - along with some of the health-driven rule changes to scrums and tackling proposed by rugby's world governing body - might be adopted permanently.

Some good emerging from the coronavirus nightmare. And we could all do with a bit of that.


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