Someone was bound to ask the question sooner or later. How can you write on sport, he asked, when people are dying, when economies are crumbling and civilisation as we know it is under threat? We are in crisis and you worry about whether he should have played back to the ball or stretched forward?
It is a fair question even if there is no sporting event actually taking place. The short answer to the importance of sport during normal times that helps us deal with the difficult times was provided by former West Indies wicketkeeper Deryck Murray, now member of the Commonwealth Advisory Board on Sports Membership.
He said, “During my time keeping wickets in some very talented West Indies teams, I saw the effectiveness of each member of the team playing their individual roles to achieve a collective goal. And as the world grapples with its response to the pandemic, one very important principle that must guide our strategies is the power of teamwork.
“So, whether your role is on the frontlines of the health system, helping to keep essential services running, or to maintain social distancing, your contributions are an invaluable part of an essential collective effort. This also applies to the collaboration of sectors. In this way, I see sport as a vital team member in the collective assault on coronavirus.”
This is useful to remember. Sport and writing about it have a direct link to life.
But there’s more. In times of crisis, when uncertainty rules, when information is limited while professionals try to put together a cogent picture, sport connects us with the certainty we knew and the information that is available at the touch of a computer key.
While those qualified to do so look into the future, the rest of us take refuge in the past, in what evokes memories of a time when we shared in something outside ourselves. Sport is a way of transcending the fear that envelops the world now.
We focus on the minutiae of competitions past, on the personalities who thrilled us, on the statistics we can still recall without effort in order that we don’t fall into a depression about the here and now. And it’s not just the sport, but the related memories they give rise to.
Remember when Sachin Tendulkar made a century just after you had finished your school exams? Remember that Messi goal you managed to sneak away and watch on your wedding day? You may not remember who gave you what as a present but you will always remember that goal that day. Sport is woven into the fabric of our lives.
Which is why it is not impolite or out of place to speak or watch or read about sport in dark times. Sport and nostalgia are close mates, travelling together, each sharpening the outlines of the other.
We are in crisis. Sport will not find a vaccine. But it will keep us sane till one is developed.