Joanne O’Riordan: Hoping for the best, bracing for the worst as sport returns

Putting my wants ahead of those who find themselves compromised is a bit of a tall ask

 Real Betis coach Rubi wearing a face mask while observing players from a balcony during a training session at the Luis del Sol training ground in Seville. Photograph:  Fernando Ruso/Real Betis/AFP via Getty Images

Real Betis coach Rubi wearing a face mask while observing players from a balcony during a training session at the Luis del Sol training ground in Seville. Photograph: Fernando Ruso/Real Betis/AFP via Getty Images

 

Things are getting serious across the pond. And it’s not just in the UK, but in Germany, Spain and even the United States. Those involved in sport and the powers that be wish to plough on, irrespective of the risks and the fact that lives will be put at risk.

Given my incredibly limited spare time, I decided to reach on back to 10-year-old Joanne and put on some WWE. Especially given how Vince McMahon wants us all to see certain classes and groups can continue thriving and disregard the pandemic and global shutdowns.

And frankly, it was a bit crap. I thought I could get over my no crowd hatred, but, honestly, it felt unnecessary, and the whole thing was a bit bland. Then the Bundesliga got the green light from Angela Merkel and that, in a way, weirdly changed the game.

Tebas was bullish at times and was clear in his reasons as to why football can return

Sure, Germany has been doing okay in its fight against Covid-19, so why not let them set a precedent in how sport can return. But, not to be outdone, Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, watched on and thought “hold my cerveza!”.

In a country that has been savaged by the coronavirus, Tebas watched as RFEF (a separate body and Spain’s national football federation) concluded the women’s league along with the lower divisions, much to their disgust and outrage. So Tebas set out his intentions. Get the top tier and Segunda tested, and when tests return negative, we can go ahead, preferably by June 10th.

In total, five unnamed players and three staff members had tested positive and were subsequently placed in quarantine for the recommended two weeks. According to Tebas, that’s eight out of 2,500, a decent return, but rules and structures must be adhered to.

So, players individually arrived at training, masks and gloves the new addition to training gear and thermometers for every player and staff member. A new normal, for want of a better term.

Tebas was bullish at times and was clear in his reasons as to why football can return. Citing a Danish study with German health officials, he claimed 22 players on the pitch are rarely in contact long enough to actually transmit the disease. In fact, it is more dangerous for players to be at home than on a pitch. Out of 22 players on the pitch, the most time a player would spend within a metre of another is 67 seconds, and not face-to-face. Think of how many times you touch a dirty doorknob.

While everyone looks to Germany with bated breath, many from within are watching on hoping for the best while possibly bracing for the worst

And then golf decided it needed to make its return. As a not-interested-in-sports PA informed me, surely golf could return the quickest because nobody is interested in it. The audacity.

But golf is a sport that loves its rules and hates its deviators. Just ask Paddy Reed or Bryson DeChambeau. So New York governor Andrew Cuomo lifted his initial golf ban in April and golf governing bodies implemented the rules. There’s no entering the pro shop. There are no carts – no trollies either. Players must keep socially distanced, six feet minimum, and you’re not supposed to touch the pins on the greens.

In a bizarre twist, I bought some bandana face masks to see if I could try and become golf’s next big thing. I looked like a wannabe Thelma and Louise looking to rob the nearest SuperValu. My Louise obviously kept her 2m designated distance.

But, in all seriousness, as people who work and love the sports industry, we know as well the social implications sport can have, this is being also done to satisfy a monetary element to the games fans refuse to see. And the argument can be made if bars and restaurants are scheduling for a reopening, why can sport not plan its return? If other workers are deemed essential enough to be risked, why can’t footballers also semi-risk theirs?

But sometimes it’s not that simple. The Bundesliga season returns this weekend, and some players are still scared, both for job security and for health and safety, especially those with a relative who is unwell or older. But rather than focus on the desire to look at them and say we may never be rid of coronavirus, it’s important to acknowledge the fact they are worried because we are just emerging from a global pandemic that is still killing portions of our population.

As a fan and someone who works in the industry, I do want sport back. But putting my wants and desires ahead of those who find themselves having to compromise, it can be a bit of a tall ask.

While this is the beginning of a process where footballers are gingerly getting back to work, rather than look at it as a way out of lockdown, maybe what everyone needs to understand is that life at the minute is just a de-escalation of a lockdown. While everyone looks to Germany with bated breath, many from within are watching on hoping for the best while possibly bracing for the worst.

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