Sport in a time of lockdown

Few things in life beat the exhilaration of watching a live sport event, whether in a crowd or in the comfort of your living room. 

Today is Lockdown Day 57 in South Africa.  It is a long time, but other countries have been (or were) in lockdown mode even longer.

We all know why it had to be done.  COVID-19 is serious, the most serious crisis the world has faced since World War II.  I know two people who have contracted the disease.  One of them, in the words of his physician, “almost joined the angels” but thankfully both are all right now.

Initially the lockdown was a novelty.  Plenty of time for family bonding, reading more, sorting out personal admin, cleaning the house, etc. etc.  But as with all novelties, this one is also beginning to wear off.  The mood has turned more sombre over the past two to three weeks.  There is a monotony that does not distinguish one day from another.  Every day is just… Day.

I believe that one of the biggest contributors to this mood is the lack of live sport.  By the same token it is the very thing that can lift us out of this morbidity. 

In February I wrote a piece about the duty of everyone in the cricket fraternity in South Africa to always put cricket first.  To illustrate the point, I quoted from the 1989 film Dead Poets Society: Equating sport to things like poetry and beauty for which we stay alive, as opposed to something like medicine which is necessary to sustain life. 

The lockdown measures have – quite literally – been put in place to sustain life.  What the lockdown has taken away from us, though, is something we stay alive for: sport.  The passion and excitement of following our favourite sports have just been plucked from our lives.  Suddenly a weekend with no results to anticipate feels a bit empty; there is nothing with which it can be replaced.     

In the context of breaking down apartheid, Nelson Mandela famously said: “Sport has the power to change the world.  It has the power to inspire…  Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”  Mandela’s words are equally apt for our crisis.

The sooner live sport can start, the quicker, I believe, the mood in the country and around the world will change.  Few things in life beat the exhilaration of watching a live sport event, whether you are in the crowd or in the comfort of your living room.  It therefore does not matter if for now sport is played in empty stadiums. 

No one knows how long the lockdown measures will still be in place.  While that is so, sport can give us something to look forward to.  In Mandela’s words, replace “despair” with “hope”; in Robin Williams’s words in Dead Poets Society, give us “something we stay alive for”.  This is a plea from a normal sports fan, one of billions, to sport administrators, sponsors and television stations around the world:  I know it is difficult, but the world needs live sport now like never before.  

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