Sports without Spectators - The new norm
Who would have thought that one day sports activity would be held in empty stadium with all restrictions that were once never heard of. Not even in the wildest dream would anybody have thought that top moments in sports would be witnessed just by a handpicked few, the press corp and key officials. But that is what happened in England in the just concluded Cricket Test series against West Indies and also in the various premier football leagues in Europe. Whether this norm would remain a continuing benchmark or fresh changes would come about in the future and to what extent, only the ongoing Coronavirus will decide!
And did this change take away that vital essence in any sporting contest? Yes and no, it can be said. To be sure, no true fan would have missed the vital moments, thanks to the extent to which television has revolutionised life now. What the camera captured would have been the feast but was'nt there something missing still? As a senior writer in a national daily wrote the other day, what was missed was the charm of the occasion. It is one thing to take note of a blistering six hit by a player like Dhoni to signal a grand finish by seeing it time and again on the TV screen but quite another to have soaked in that atmosphere when it actually happened. The racing heartbeat and the nail-biting moments of that will-it-or will-it not situation can never be described aptly until once sees it happen in the company of the thousands around. Instead of the sound of the bat hitting the ball, it would be cheers around that would rock the stadium in that instant act. Even the player concerned, it would seem, would not have known for a second the impact of what happened until the rise of the roar around.
It was something like this that perhaps Stuart Broad or Ben Stokes earlier would have felt after their glittering show in the Test series. Dropped from the first Test and then reinstated, Broad knew he needed all the encouragement to showcase his wealth of talent. Reports suggested that he had even consulted a sports psychologist to tune his mind to performing without a crowd-backing. True some years back one young Indian talent by the name Yuvraj Singh devastated his bowling art with six sixes in one over in a World Cup T20 match in Kingsmead Durban. Indeed much water has gone down the Thames since and Manchester provided the occasion for him to show his true mettle as he picked his 500 Test victim, only seventh bowler in the world to do so. Only it was a glaring empty stadium by far that had witnessed the milestone act! Broad was happy that atleast his father Chris Broad was there in the stadium as the Match Referee to watch a glorious moment of his career. With Stokes earlier stroking his way to help in England's series win and confirming his premier status as one of the best all-rounder in the sport today, the host had a tremendous run but, it must be said, an international fixture ending like this seemed a little odd. But this is perhaps just the beginning!
Such is the care that the Cricket world body had taken, why even a rule with regard to applying saliva on the ball had been amended, to ensure no loophole in the virus making an entry to what now is commonly called the bio-bubble. A bio-secure ground and players in virtual quarantine during the series meant for all practical purposes cricket was on! A signal perhaps to other cricket-playing nations to take cue. Not that this is entirely easy. Indian officials ever so keen to set the ball rolling knew the herculean difficulties and realised the best option was to shift the cash-rich IPL to the better prepared settings in the UAE. No complaints there for sure, because even if it was held in India no spectator would have had entry into the stadium. So venues will not matter but action will and even if the atmosphere is to be lost, television coverage would ensure the rest. Conversations thereafter on any precious happening on the ground will not be centered on “I was there” but “I did not miss that”!
Where does that leave other sports now? The well known NBA league in America has resumed with all kinds of stringent steps to ensure players' safety put in place. If a highly contact-sport like basketball can get going surely it will not be too long before a popular sport like tennis comes on the stage. As they say if there is a will there is a way! Yet for all this, it still will be a huge regret if finally even mega-events like the Olympics and Asian Games for example, also face the same situation. Imagine high-voltage competitions on the track and field, a once-in-four year episode of sports-persons who had given their hearts out in preparations, getting to be watched by none in the gallery but only the TV cameras and officials!