The unusual role of sport in COVID-19 resolution
It's a common question on Zoom these days 'what thing are you most looking forward to when lockdown ends?'.
Of course, the answer varies, some people are looking forward to travelling again, others yearn for an opportunity to see close family and many look forward to the return of clubs, pubs and festivals.
But, there is one response which crops up far more often - at least in my experience - than others, and that is the desire to see live sport return.
And it's no wonder. There really is something quite magical about sport. It brings people together in ways few other things can. It breaks down barriers of race, religion, suffering and poverty whilst also building the feeling of togetherness, unity and collective achievement.
History gives us plenty of examples of when sport gave people the opportunity to think about something other than the grim realities of the time.
In WWI the Christmas Truce saw French, German, and British soldiers leave their trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and play football.
In 2019 North and South Koreans joined forces to create a unified Ice Hockey team
In the early 1970s, Sino-American relations eased somewhat following the advent of Ping Pong Diplomacy
Tragically, this crisis, in contrast to those which precede it, cannot be solved nor eased through the bringing of people together (at least not in a literal sense).
So what role does sport have in resolving this crisis?
For any crisis, two questions must be asked at the start of the response. What are we dealing with, and what do we need? The response to 'what do we need?' is where I believe sport has the biggest role to play.
One of the biggest areas in which sport has been able to and should seek to continue to help the current crisis is through the use and development of technology.
Sport is all about pushing boundaries. The boundaries of human strength, endurance, precision. Sport also plays a major role in the advancement of technology, notably in motorsport.
And it is this very technology which has been utilised in this crisis. Whilst there have been many examples of sports teams assisting in various tech-based responses, I have selected one in particular as I believe it demonstrates the level of excellence all sports teams strive for.
Early on in the crisis, it became clear there was a shortage of in ventilators. Step forward Formula 1. Just a few days after Lewis Hamilton was calling for the Melbourne GP to be cancelled, Project Pitlane had sprung up. A joint initiative between the seven UK F1 teams, who joined forces to help the UK industry-wide effort to manufacture and deliver respiratory devices to support the national need.
Thousands of stadiums have laid empty around the world for some weeks. There are some, however, which have been busier than ever.
Many sports bodies and clubs have stepped forward and offered health services free-use of their state of the art medical facilities, stadiums, training facilities, rehabilitation centres and logistical networks.
The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is a field hospital, with beds on the pitch. Arsenal Football Club cars are taking NHS workers to and from work. Aston Villa stadium kitchens are providing meals to key workers. Chelsea has provided their hotel to NHS workers to help prevent the spread of the disease. Liverpool club stewards are helping queueing systems in supermarkets across the city. The list goes on.
Sports players are often criticised for their huge salaries, and none more so than Premier League footballers. Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock made a cheap shot at the players early in the crisis saying “given the sacrifices that many people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS who have made the ultimate sacrifice... I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut and play their part.” One thing Hancock failed to factor in as he attempted to deflect attention from himself onto the footballers was the fact that if Premier League players did take a pay cut this would create a massive reduction in tax revenues.
However, despite Hancock's unwarranted criticism, work was already well underway. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was in the process of organising a fund from Premier League players known as #playerstogether which went on to raise millions of pounds for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic.
Run for heroes
One final area of note in which we have seen perhaps the high level of participation has been the 'Run For Heroes' campaign. The movement which started on Instagram with people running 5Km, nominating 5 friends and donating £5 has generated millions of pounds for the NHS. Once again, demonstrating a prime example of the power of sport in crisis resolution.
In times of crisis, it can be easy to point fingers, dwell on negativity and highlight things which could and perhaps should have been done differently. There is certainly a place for constructive critique, however, there is also a place to celebrate the amazing acts of generosity which occur every day.
We often look at sport through the lens of admiration. Sport always plays a key role in the resolution of crises in the way it allows people to move forward and heal wounds. However, never before has sport played a role such as this. Never before has sport been asked to open its doors to help society in a way such as this.
As ever in our time of need, when sport was required, sport delivered.