Enough is enough!

Sports during COVID-19

West Indies captain Jason Holder, center right, hugs teammate John Campbell after their win on the fifth day (12th July 2020) of the first cricket Test match between England and West Indies (AP Photo)

Since the last few months, everyone has been under stress, or tension, or even depression. Some think that this is the end of the world. They seem to have been caught in the web of uncertainty, with no way out of it. This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected countries all over the world. When the pandemic struck, several restrictions were imposed to contain the spread of the disease. Governments resorted to the imposition of a lockdown, and introduced safety measures like social distancing, using face masks, and suggested ways to increase resistance power.

As a result of this social confinement, many activities suddenly came to a halt, thus creating unease and fear among the people. They were getting restive because they were stuck in their homes. The lack of moving about and doing exercises in the open or playing games on the field added to their misery too. Moreover, players were yearning for their usual practice and to start activity on grounds, gymnasiums, badminton and tennis courts, swimming pools, etc.

Amidst this milieu, the sports tournaments and competitions in all disciplines came to a standstill too, making the fans unhappy. They felt starved because they were used to watching the games live on TV (whenever they could not go to the stadiums). Deprived of this escape that sports entertainment provided from the reality, the fans felt they had hit the wall with no way out. Their family members were worried too, for they knew what the problem was, but had no means to solve it by themselves.

Day by day, the situation was worsening – and everyone was sure that it was high time to do something about the situation. It is at this stage that several positive-minded people thought:

Enough is enough!

Now is the time, to be ourselves again and live naturally.

We must try to behave as we did before the pandemic struck.

So, they thought, why should we stay at home, unhappy, angry

and sad? Instead, we should start the games again!

The feeling that somebody must take the matter in both hands and start some activity in sports, resonated amongst everyone. This way the games will start again, albeit without spectators which wasn’t much of a problem, because the matches would be televised live and the fans could also enjoy the safety of their home. 

There wouldn’t be any financial problems for the organizers as well as the (professional) players. Almost all experts felt that it would give the players and sports fans much-needed happiness, and thereby more courage. They will become mentally strong and fight the situation with a positive mind.

Football, the world’s most popular game, was the first to break free from the shackles of anxiety and fear. The federations in some countries decided to start their top league matches, once again. Of course, every match was to be played, taking utmost care by observing the norms set by respective governments. The first match was played in South Korea on 8th May after several weeks of postponement in an empty World Cup stadium at Jeonju. The match was televised all over the world and was viewed by more than 2.5 million followers of the game. The bold decision seemed to have worked and the suit was followed by the European leagues. After a break of two months, the top-flight Bundesliga resumed its season in Germany on 16th May behind closed doors.

Going a step forward, they arranged not just a single match, but full tournaments. As expected, this brought a new wave of happiness among fans everywhere in the world. The response for these matches was overwhelming where ever they were telecast.

Consequently, more and more sports disciplines followed the example. Tennis, Boxing, Motor racing also started. Following their footsteps, the remaining sport disciplines are also planning to conduct their respective tournaments or matches. Even Cricket test matches between England and West Indies were played without any hitch behind closed doors. The venues for these matches were the bio-secure grounds of Hampshire’s Ageas bowl and Lancashire’s Old Trafford.

No player was affected, and the series, first after the pandemic hit the world, went very well. The reason was that all participants carefully observed the norms, set by the ICC. The MCC was extremely particular about it, and as a penalty, did not allow Jofra Archer, their star fast bowler, to play in the second test match. The reason was – he committed a biosecurity breach by going to meet his family, thus violating the norms.

Now, one thing is clear. The revival of the sports world has given a boost to many people to fight against this pandemic. Even after so many matches, there is not a single case of a player getting infected. The only exception was Novak Djokovic, who tested positive for the Coronavirus during his Adria Tour in Croatia. However, the management is to be blamed here because no tests were conducted for the players before the matches. Besides Djokovic, players like Serb Viktor Troicki, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and Croatian Borna Coric were also tested positive after they were all seen hanging out together with Djokovic the evening before. This underlined the insistence of observing the norms by the World Health Organization.

So, everyone now knows that if you take care by observing the norms, you need not worry about COVID-19. This has given new inspiration to the organizers of the matches as well, and now they are considering allowing the spectators, though in limited numbers. They are also planning the seating arrangements by observing guidelines about physical distancing. If it succeeds, the number will be increased gradually.

Experts say that when you have a positive feeling, it helps you to become fit and healthy. It improves your resistance power to a large extent. So, now it will be quite helpful in the fight against the pandemic, if people are allowed to exercise in the open like running, walking, cycling, or practicing their games on playgrounds or courts. It is true for the general public as well. Now with masks on, they can move about and do their work as well, thus helping the economic cycle get moving again. This will further help in increasing the demand for various things, and the chain effect will continue. This will result in gradually improving the situation to the point at which it is forced to stop.

It is now certain, that long-awaited big sporting events like American open tennis championship, last of the Grand-Prix Tennis tournaments, and IPL Cricket tournament will start in about a month and a half. The organizers of these tournaments must have started thinking about allowing a limited number of spectators in the stadiums, with due care. England has shown them the way, by allowing as many as one thousand spectators for the first-class Cricket match between Surrey and Middlesex at Oval, even as the third test match against West Indies was in progress at Manchester. In the meantime, all players must be allowed to practice for the coming events so that they can prepare for them. Only then will the Matches be fought keenly and these prestigious tournaments will meet high standards as usual!

The encouraging news about the progress of developing vaccines for the COVID-19 will give new impetus to organizers to think about accommodating spectators in the stadium, with the provision of appropriate and safe arrangements and facilities. All the youngsters should be encouraged to play one game or the other. And if they are interested in the individual events like running, weight-lifting, shooting, archery, swimming, gymnastics, etc., they should be allowed to practice for the same.

At present every sportsperson is thinking about the Olympic Games, which were going to be held in Tokyo, Japan but have now been postponed by a year. The event is scheduled for 23rd July, 2021 to 8th August, 2021. Due to this decision, sportspersons will get more time for preparations by making use of this additional time. Sports federations and the Government should give players all the assistance, which will enable them to reach at the top during the Olympics, or for that matter, any big tournament. With this help, they will try their best to qualify (if necessary) for the events they are looking forward to. And if they have already qualified for the same, they will dedicate themselves to their practice, and will try to raise their standard to win a medal at the big events.

All this will give much satisfaction to the fans and the sports fraternity all over the world. And they will shout in unison …

“Play up, play up and play the game!”

P.S.: After I finished this article, good news has come, and the government has lifted many restrictions to restore normalcy.

Cheers!

- A. S. Ketkar
aashriketkar@gmail.com

(The writer is a renowned sports journalist who previously worked with Maharashtra Times.)

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