Sport in Jeopardy as ‘New Normal’ Grips

Sport is in jeopardy.  CoronaVirus is perhaps the greatest public health scare we have experienced in living memory.  Its impact on the ways in which we normally escape from the sometimes harsh realities of life is already profound and sport will be hit hard.

The small consolation is that everyone is in the same boat and that these low days, just as is the case with the high ones, will pass.

We live in a world where it looks as though everything is planned, controlled and executed so that we can go about our daily business.  The power comes on when we flick a switch, the supermarket shelves are stacked when we want to shop to eat, and sport goes on to entertain us and salve our physical and mental wellbeing whenever we want.

Yes, there are occasional ‘outages’ like a big freeze but for the most part things happen as we expect.

Over the past few weeks, the world has been getting to terms with a ‘new normal’ and the disconcerting thing is that no one fully knows, sometimes from day to day, where the dust will settle.

Challenging

It has been challenging to keep up with a news cycle that is twisting and turning every way we look.  There is no single ‘best practice’ to dealing with the crisis and the numbers of infection and mortality are genuinely scary.

In Italy, the number of those known to be infected is over 10,000.  The number of deaths already through 600.  At face value that is a mortality rate of 6.0 per cent plus.  The final figure will likely be less but those who are likening it to the flu, where the mortality rate is 0.1 per cent are simply wrong.

It is not yet believed to be equal in its danger but for those who are older, who are or have been going through cancer treatment, for those who suffer from respiratory disease or who are taking medication for MS and other conditions that require the suppression of the immune system, there is a serious risk of more severe reaction.

Sport is a crucial component in how we live our lives as a society, both in terms of entertainment and physical participation.  It is community-based.  It helps us define ourselves as ‘tribes’ as nations.  It is in the frontline as part of the way in which we can now protect ourselves as best as possible.

Unfortunately, that will mean the temporary suspension of what we consider to be normal.

Maximum Impact

In Britain and Ireland, we have taken the view that the timing of maximum impact of shutting down is not yet now but it is coming.  Italy is in lockdown.  In Spain, France and Germany the football season will continue, for now, behind closed doors.

The Republic of Ireland game against Slovakia will at best take place in a similar fashion but with half the Slovak team in Italy, the likelihood is that this game will have to be pushed back.

In Northern Ireland, a number of footballers including one playing for Linfield are among those to have caught the infection. Windsor Park is an exclusion zone for a deep clean.  Bosnia Herzegovina authorities have suspended ticket sales for the game on the other side of the Euro 2020 Qualification equation.

Things may well look completely different in a months time.  Please God, they will but if they don’t, then we will be one month from asking fans to criss-cross the continent to twelve cities for the playing of Euro 2020.  It just does not feel as though that is likely to be acceptable or possible at this stage.

In Switzerland, the word is that we carry on planning and we expect that the peak will have passed and the games can go on but it would be bizarre if contingency was not being considered to push the games back or to postpone until either later in the year or 2021.

TV Rights

If it was later there is only a two-week gap between the Euro 2020 final and the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games.  It is unlikely that they could both take part simultaneously as the TV rights would be almost impossible to fulfil.

If it was later in the year, as will be the case with the FIFA World cup in Qatar, it would mean scheduling games at the Aviva Stadium through November and December, right in the midst of the Guinness Series and the possible conclusion of the Six Nations.  That is only our local challenge.  It can be multiplied by 12 in a world of complexity.

Could UEFA elect to push the tournament back to 2021?  It would mean either taking part at the same time or having a knock-on impact on the Euro 2021 Women’s Championship which though smaller in terms of size and scale is of equal importance in terms of ambitions to grow the game.

The Olympic Flame ceremony will take place quietly in Greece the week after next but there has to be a question over the Games taking place as scheduled.

Again we have to say that things are changing so quickly that this will seem like Chicken Little panic in a few weeks but the chances are that it will be impacted.  Is there the potential to push back Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games until October and November.

Shut Down

The GAA shut down for a month in the Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001 and got games played thereafter.  This weekend will see Inter-County matches across all four codes of Gaelic games including Dublin against Meath at Croke Park on Sunday.

The GAA like all Irish Sporting Bodies has said it will do what is advised by health authorities.  The Heineken Cup games featuring Leinster and Ulster, the Guinness PRO14, the SSE Airtricity League of Ireland, the Punchestown Festival, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Golf and any sporting gathering are getting uncomfortably close to the shadow that CoronaVirus is casting.

We will get through it.  Things will return to normal.  But for now ‘normal’ is something we cannot predict.  We just need to brace ourselves for changes to schedules that will be inconvenient, that could be very damaging from a financial perspective but which could save one, ore hundreds or thousands of lives.

It’s all about perspective.  Stay safe.


Image Credit: Sport for Business

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