With COVID-19 well entrenched where is sports heading to?
A fortnight ago it seemed even if threatening, it could just be a passing phase but COVID-19 or Coronavirus is proving, if anything, more than just that. It has truly gripped the world with the kind of concern and panic rarely seen and as far as the world of sport is concerned it has turned a spoil-sport of the most corrosive kind! Simply put it has triggered a havoc and virtually made a mockery of sports in toto.
All we have been reading and hearing in the last few days have been about cancellation or postponement of even world level events including several that have been notified as qualification fixtures for the Olympics. Worse, some competitions have been held in empty stadia or as they put it, behind closed doors!
How can sports be called sports at all if held without an audience to witness and savour the proceedings? Indeed, how can competitors perform with the same panache as when doing in front of packed and an engaging gathering? No matter what critics say, sporting contests need a crowd of supporters and distractors too to test the sportsperson's pysche and ability to perform. True legends have been born that way and there are any number of them who have had a glowing career in various sporting disciplines.
Some of the best sporting contests have come about in front of packed and overflowing galleries. Football in particular. And in this context one's sympathies went out to those football fans in Goa the other day in the final of the ISL at the Fatorda stadium.
The contest was held behind closed doors when year after year this was such a sought after final that is usually watched by several thousand roaring fans. Here were two fighting clubs, each on the cusp of history after two-title wins to gain the honour of becoming holder of the highest number of victories in this tournament. As it happened, we had the results so to say trickling out from closed gates. Of course television coverage would have brought some mercy, yet.
Inexorable are the ways of nature and as uncertainty prevails, the fear that mounts is what would happen to the Olympics in Tokyo slated in July/ August? No genuine sports-lover would ever wish to miss this once-in-four year visual delight when not just the colourful settings that catch the eye but contests that have the propensity to touch new highs. One need not have to be present in Tokyo to enjoy the lot because Television coverage would surpass all expectations as it had been over the years. Still have we not seen the disturbing signs already?
Sportspersons who have been sweating it out in preparation for this grandiose moment have been affected by the disruption of this virus scare. Preparatory camps have since been closed post haste or shifted base, athletes and others have perforce lost momentum just when, as they say, they were reaching peak form.
Indeed Europe is already under a cloud, virtually out of bounds. Our own boxers who had been in Italy just about managed to shift base in their endeavour to keep the preparatory spell going. Many dreams in fact are just about taking wings. Protagonists of the Olympics are certain there is nothing that would stop the Games unfolding in all its grandeur.
For the billions of dollars that Japan has sunk for the conduct of this Olympics, its second effort after 1964, the sympathies are with the Government there. Then again consider the aspirations of the 11000 Olympic and over 4000 paralympic athletes alone not to mention the huge stakes of sponsors and television broadcasters. Any disruption could spell an all-round disaster.
In the history of Olympics only three editions had suffered a cancellation each, the 1916, 1940 and 1944, all through Wars. In 1980 and 84 there were partial interruptions because of boycotts by US bloc first and thereafter supporting countries of Soviet Union. But the Games went through. This is the first time however when nature has decided to take the final say. May be it is not time yet for desperation.
There still remain a few more months by which the air could clear and the global heat on the virus would subside but for now the threat appears real. The way governments the world over have been responding to this nature's fury, pessimism is what stalks everyone.
Japan however lives on hope, understandably, and the International Olympic Committee obviously lends it full support for this Asian giant, it must be said, is no push over when it comes to handling such an enormous responsibility. As a senior member of the IOC, Dick Pound had told a British daily recently, there is still time till May-end for getting a clarity in the situation. Of course nobody would wish to spell out the worst scenario.
Meanwhile the havoc reigns as sporting activity be it cricket, tennis, badminton, basketball, or the popular football leagues in Europe and England, every activity slowly but surely is grounding to a standstill. Playfields are becoming just reflections or reminders of the current difficult times. Confusion is what rules in the minds of sports administrators and nothing is more representative of this dilemma than the way the IPL is placed in India.