Is it only a matter of time before more and more sporting events – international, national and local – are postponed, canceled or spectators banned due to positive Covid cases and/or lockdown measures? stricter containment?
he now fears that is the case.
As we write these words on Tuesday afternoon it was learned that the annual Munster v Leinster St Stephen’s Day rugby clash – in the United Rugby Championship as it is now known – has been postponed because Leinster, who have had dealing with Covid positives in their team for about three weeks, reported additional cases in their camp this week.
The Heineken Champions Cup was already postponed last week, including Leinster’s game against Montpellier last week, and the feeling now is that there will be further disruption over the coming weeks. News that the ever-anticipated old Leinster v Munster game on December 26 is now canceled would certainly suggest so.
Football too, particularly games in England, has been riddled with multiple Covid cases across several teams, leading to a series of postponements, including more than half of last weekend’s Premier League matches.
Much closer to home, Na Gaeil had to play their recent intermediate county final without Jack Barry because of Covid protocols, and with the number of cases averaging four to six thousand each day, it would be naïve to think that the sport will not continue to be negatively affected for the next few weeks, and dare we say months.
If we thought or hoped we were out of the woods a few months ago in terms of curbing the virus and returning to some sort of normalcy, sadly we seem to be back among the weeds.
Whether one agrees or not – or even appreciates why it was done – the government’s decision to shut down hospitality and impose more restrictions has not, it must be believed, was taken lightly. If health experts and the political powers that be find it necessary or desirable to increasingly keep apart, then what are the chances that crowds will be allowed to gather at sporting events that last much longer? long time ?
And that assumes teams have the numbers to play with. Last weekend the Clanmaurice camogie team were starved of players for their All-Ireland semi-final against Athleague, with Covid the reason for some of the absenteeism, and the grim reality is that situations like this are likely to be more the rule than the exception for the next few weeks. Concerns are that ‘weeks’ could become ‘months’ and we end up with, at best, games and fixtures behind closed doors, and at worst, no sport taking place at all.
Kerry’s footballers and bowlers are in action in the McGrath Cup and Munster Hurling Cup a few weeks from now, and although they don’t usually draw huge crowds, there will be keen interest to see who and what kind team player Jack O’Connor turns up for his first game as a football manager.
There is also the question of the Munster IHC final from Kilmoyley, and a week later Austin Stacks, Na Gaeil and Gneeveguilla in their respective provincial football finals.
There are just over five weeks until the start of the National Football League, and just over six before Dublin arrives in Tralee where crowds of over 12,000 are expected to gather at Austin Stack Park. The odds of that happening right now? No more than fifty-fifty in our book.
Are we pessimistic? Not really, just read the tea leaves, see the numbers and be realistic.
We’re not going to get into the nitty gritty of vaccinations here, and whether or not people should get vaccinated or have the absolute right not to if they choose. But there are consequences of not being vaccinated, and as the Premier League in particular have seen, a low vaccination rate equates to an increase in the number of positive cases.
Of course, vaccination doesn’t stop transmission of the virus, and it looks like the Omicron variant is slippery as a premium rugby half. But as long as the number of positive cases remains relatively high and the curve does not flatten, sport – even one that generates millions of euros – will be considered the non-essential luxury that it is.
That’s not to say sport doesn’t support lives and livelihoods. Of course it is. Beneath the thin layer of millionaires at the pinnacle of professional sport, there is a huge community of people earning roughly a living wage – everyone from the stadium announcer to the program salesman to the taxi driver and the freelance journalist.
Once again, a year, almost two years later, we find ourselves on the brink of a shutdown from the sports and games we love. Needless to say, we desperately hope it doesn’t come to that. We hope that our brilliant athletes, whether professional, semi-professional, amateur or simply recreational, will continue to do what they love to do and what we love to see them do.
Meanwhile, all the time, everyone can try to do the right thing. Wash the legs. Wear the mask correctly. Get away from each other. Take care of yourself and look out for others.
It’s a fucking cliche at this point, and we’re all tired of it, but until we’re all safe, none of us are safe.