Our hope and fear about the future of sport after COVID-19

When we get back to competitive sport, I don’t think everything will resume from where we stopped. Some sports will have to go back and make a fresh start.

Sport has to reset, to get back to basics, to jettison what is unnecessary, to build on what is important and find creative ways of doing new things after the corona pandemic is over.   -  Getty Images

 

Sport is a test of normalcy, a sign that routine is back. When the Olympic Games are held next year in Tokyo, we will heave a sigh and say things are finally back to normal. Or, if we remember our Robert Browning from school, we’ll say, “God’s in his heaven/All’s right with the world.”

These are terrible times, but we can dream of better days ahead. In fact, we need to in order to survive this period. All religions speak of the ultimate salvation, the final redemption; that’s what makes them so powerful. Ditto with sport.

Sport has to reset, to get back to basics, to jettison what is unnecessary, to build on what is important and find creative ways of doing new things.

Perhaps sport will get more localised, involving all of us at our respective levels. Perhaps the money will be more evenly distributed. In India’s case we might stop building mammoth stadiums which are merely a tribute to some administrator’s ego.

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Fans might ask themselves a crucial question: They love sports, but do sports love them in return? The American writer Dave Zirin wrote a whole book about how the games we love are being ruined. He says in Bad Sports that if sports was once like a playful puppy you would wrestle on the floor, it is now like a house cat demanding to be stroked and giving nothing back.

How did, asks Zirin, sport become so overbearing in our culture, and yet so distant from our personal embrace? It is a thought that will be occurring to the more sensitive fans.

When we get back to competitive sport, I don’t think everything will resume from where we stopped. Some sports will have to go back a bit and make a fresh start. Others will have to find answers to fundamental questions of design and purpose. The texture will be different, the emphasis will change, the focus might shift.

The Tokyo Olympics might have symbolic value, but Olympics have become behemoths forcing governments and citizens to repay huge debts.

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I know it is difficult to calculate the expenses or the benefits from hosting the Olympics. Athens in 2004 ended up $14.5 billion in debt. Original cost estimates go up by an average of 170 percent. Tokyo’s original budget of $12.6 billion has been challenged by its own National Audit Board, which says it is $22 billion. Another national survey placed it at $28 billion. The figures lose meaning at this stage.

The Olympics have become too expensive. A scaling down can only be good for the Games, for the hosts, for the participants and for the fans.

On a recent panel which discussed some of the issues above, we were asked about our hope and fear about the future. My hope is that sport becomes more inclusive, more participatory in India. My greatest fear — in the current context — is that we might get the timing wrong and resume competition before it is absolutely safe to do so.

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