When we last spoke, the Six Nations was in full swing and we were looking forward to spring with the usual burst of excitement and buzz. What a difference a few weeks makes! The Six Nations, along with a raft of other sporting fixtures, has been postponed indefinitely and virtually the whole world has been thrust into lockdown. Welcome to the panicked, slowed and slightly eerie new world we now live in.
Of course, in the great scheme to things, the cancellation and postponement of sports events is frankly irrelevant. People are dying in mammoth numbers from the dreadful Covid-19 pandemic and our hospital wards and emergency departments are under unprecedented stress. If this awful event has done any good it is shining a spotlight on the real heroes in society. And it ain’t pampered, privileged sports stars. It’s the men and women of the NHS and HSE.
That said, the Six Nations postponement raises some interesting questions. The smart money is on the outstanding fixtures played later in the year. There is precedent here. For those who remember the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 (an animal rather than human infection, of course), will recall that Six Nations games were postponed until the autumn that year to prevent spread of the disease.
Who can forget Keith Wood peeling off the back of an Irish lineout to score at Lansdowne Road to deny a superb England team a Grand Slam they deserved and would certainly have claimed had Foot and Mouth not intervened. Even Iain Balshaw was on fire back then. That’s how long ago it was!
And the parallels with 2001 don’t end there. The same inconsistency with enforcement measures applied. Ireland’s Six Nations games were cancelled but others continued, as did the Premier League football season. Go figure.
Similarly, this time, as events were cancelled en masse, we saw the bizarre spectacle of hundreds of thousands of spectators cramming into Cheltenham for their annual punt and party. When the comprehensive history of Covid-19 is finally written, the continuation of the Cheltenham Festival will be one of the most inexplicable chapters. Unless standards are applied equally, restriction measures are rendered impotent and certain sections of society, in particular, were slow to react to the danger.
In all this, though, we must keep balance. The Coronavirus crisis is uncharted territory and it’s understandable that mistakes are made. The powers that be have struggled to contain this, but we should cut some slack. Sure, there have been gaffes in all walks of life, but I’m not of the school of thought that there was any wilful negligence here. People are doing their best in the midst of conflicting and often confusing scientific advice.
And that includes governments! The sands are constantly shifting. No-one wanted to see a single death caused by this illness. Only fools believe otherwise. This damn virus caught us all unguarded and it’s inevitable that parts of public policy failed. Still, lessons must be learnt.
The lack of precedent only adds to our collective sense of worry and uneasiness. The only comparable event I can think of is the onset of the global financial crisis of 2008 in terms of a sudden and catastrophic shock to the global economic system. The silver lining-and I know we must stretch to see it-is the effects of this crisis are unlikely to be as enduring and long lasting.
So, the Six Nations will likely reprise in the autumn and professional football possibly a little earlier. Liverpool fans have been waiting 29 years to recapture their holy grail and it would be a crying shame if the most deserved league title in the history of the game evaded the Scousers after all that toil and effort. Indeed, it would be a pity if the title was sealed behind closed doors.
The Olympics has also been put back a year, causing massive uncertainly for the (mostly amateur) athletes who’ve trained lifetimes to compete at the Games. And yet, we must return to the central point. Sport is irrelevant in all of this. Vast numbers are getting sick and lives have been lost.
The world has changed in an unbelievably short period of time and we’ve all had to adjust to this new world order. But things will return to relative normality and all those glorious trivialities (sport, socialising, meeting family and friends) will return. What remains to be seen is what lasting damage is done to the economy and individual lives by this unique crisis.
But normal life will resume. We will get through this together. In the meantime, all we can do is look after those close to us, especially the frail and vulnerable, and support our wonderful health workers. See you all, please God, on the other side.