Sport in the time of the coronavirus

Nothing about the coronavirus is clear and fully understood. It is the fear of the unknown that has led to panic in some areas.

Prophetic: In his book Our Final Century that was published at the turn of the century, the British scientist Martin Rees bet that “by the year 2020 an instance of bioerror or bioterror will have killed a million people.”

 

At the turn of the century, the British scientist Martin Rees wrote Our Final Century, a book where he said, “I think the odds are no better than 50-50 that our civilization on Earth will survive to the end of the present century.”

He bet that “by the year 2020 an instance of bioerror or bioterror will have killed a million people.” He clarified later: “By “bioerror”, I mean something which has the same effect as a terror attack, but rises from inadvertence rather than evil intent.”

I bring this up only to lend some perspective to current debates. Sport in the time of coronavirus might seem a particularly misguided concept. But sport is more than sport and shades into that field of human activity called “business.” If it weren’t for the huge sums involved and the losses expected (ATP’s Indian Wells tennis tournament lost over 60 million dollars on cancellation), there would be only a moral issue.
 

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Sometimes the moral issue is easier to handle than the commercial one. Other things remaining equal, we say human life is precious, and cancel sport. But other things are seldom equal. There can be no international sport without travel, without thousands of spectators, without contact, without disruption. Hence the dilemma. Organisers turn risk analysts and many are forced to cancel (or postpone, which sounds better) events.

And one cancellation often leads to another, as organisers take strength from another’s decisions. At the time of writing, the ATP is contemplating a six-week break of the Tour, NBA has been suspended for the season, all sport in Italy has been called off till April 3, and many internationals in rugby, table tennis, soccer, cycling and more, have been put off.

The biggest of them all, the Olympic Games, is scheduled to be held in Tokyo from July 4 to August 9. Will a vaccine be found by then? Will the virus itself ease off as summer sets in? Is it too early to decide? The uncertainty — for athletes, officials, spectators with tickets – can be debilitating.

In India, South Africa arrived just before the visa ban came into effect. This was taking a chance since it is not only the players but spectators too who come under threat. Already Juventus soccer star Daniele Rugani and Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert have been attacked by the coronavirus. So has a spectator at the Women’s World T20 final in Melbourne, and calls have been made to people who watched the game from the same stand at the MCG.

Nothing about the coronavirus is clear and fully understood. It is the fear of the unknown that has led to panic in some areas. But sometimes a little panic is a good thing if it keeps people safe. False bravado based on nothing more than hope can be dangerous, even fatal.

Professor Rees signed a copy of his book thus: “To Suresh with best wishes — and in the hope that I am too pessimistic.”

I hope I am being too pessimistic here.