CORRECT CALL AS VIRUS HITS HARD


The sporting world is at a crossroads, that even by its standards of delivering the unexpected, very few would have been able to predict, writes Gareth Davies.

Just how quickly the week has unfolded within sport is difficult to fathom, even harder to comprehend.
It started off with caution, witnessed first-hand by this very newspaper on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.
Crowds were down and despite the famous roar failing to disappoint as horses and their jockeys entered the home straight in every race, something just didn’t feel quite right.
It would be disingenuous to say that racegoers were scared or frightened for what the future may hold as Coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, but by the same token, it was clearly very much in the forefront of everyone’s minds.
After returning from Cheltenham, with my wallet slightly emptier, it was back to the usual rigours of producing the best sports coverage from the South West over the past seven days.
Although we carried on as normal, as per the Government’s instructions that were relayed on Thursday, by the time we arrived at Indy Towers on Friday morning, the landscape had changed dramatically.
With the news that Arsenal manager Mikael Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi had tested positive for coronavirus, it was clear that the Government’s advice of sport keeping calm and carrying on was no longer an option.
We were then informed that Bournemouth’s usual 9.00am press conference wasn’t going ahead, and their goalkeeper Artur Boruc was self-isolating.
It was a similar situation at Everton, Watford and Leicester City meaning the inevitable would happen and English professional football would follow the lead of their Italian and Spanish counterparts, by suspending leagues.
On occasions, the footballing authorities seem hapless at making the right decision and quickly too, with discrimination a prime example of this.
However, this time, the Premier League, Football League and Women’s Super League, made absolutely the correct call.
Their decisive stance was the only stance, although now questions are being asked about what happens if the world, and this country specifically, is still in the vice-like grip of Coronavirus for the foreseeable future. Sadly, this looks very likely.
In the short term, it appears to be a question that will be asked and answered further down the line as the situation is escalating quicker than anyone imagined.
What should be noted, is that if league competition can’t be restarted in early April, it would be increasingly difficult to finish the season, even if the Euro 2020 competition, dreadfully organised by a money-thirsty UEFA, over the whole of Europe, is pushed back a year.
For what it’s worth, the longer this crisis drags on, the only logical action would be to make this season null and void.
The 2020-21 campaign would start with the league and associated structure the same as 2019-20.
Now before a Plymouth Argyle or Exeter City fan, for example, screams at their newspaper that this is grossly unfair, given the two Devon sides are very much in the League Two promotion picture, they should consider the wider implications.
Football and sport in general, no matter how much we love it, is way down the list of importance when considering that, without wanting to dramatise this situation, people’s lives are very much at risk due to coronavirus.
The former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said that football was more important than life and death, but perhaps the present incumbent of the Anfield manager’s chair reflected the current situation perfectly and rubbished the Scot’s notion.
Jurgen Klopp, who has led the Merseyside outfit to the verge of a first league title since 1990, said: “I’ve said before that football always seems the most important of the least important things.
“Today, football and football matches really aren’t important at all.
“Of course, we don’t want to play in front of an empty stadium, and we don’t want games or competitions suspended, but if doing so helps one individual stay healthy – just one – we do it no questions asked.
“If it’s a choice between football and the good of the wider society, it’s no contest. Really, it isn’t.”
Despite Klopp’s words, the Football Association, the guardians of our game, don’t appear to share the same beliefs.
Incredibly, with the FA and EFL taking firm and decisive action, this stance hasn’t trickled down the food chain.
The National, Southern, Western, South West-Peninsula and everyone outside of the fully professional circuit was left to fend for themselves.
Instead of insisting on a blanket ban of all football, from top to bottom, the FA said it was up to the individual leagues.
So, we have competitions, who are mainly run by volunteers, being forced to decide on the wellbeing of everyone involved with their individual leagues.
I would have a greater chance of winning the money back I lost at Cheltenham by laying a bet that the vast majority of those involved with said leagues have little or no medical expertise.
Now this isn’t to suggest that they would be deliberately negligent, but quite why the FA didn’t roll out a blanket suspension is simply beyond comprehension.
The powers that be were quick enough to tell the leagues that they couldn’t extend their seasons because of strict rules that say everything must be done and dusted by April 25 due to the recent wet weather.
That screamed ‘we know best’ from the corridors of power at Wembley Stadium, but now, when the leagues were desperate for help and guidance, the FA deserted them in their hour of need.
Some have followed the big boys’ lead; others have tried to soldier on manfully which is and has sent mixed messages to just how serious this pandemic really is.
Whenever this crisis ends and whatever the outcome eventually is, sport, as much as it plays a huge part in society through enjoyment, employment and everything, must halt until it is safe to resume and there should be no exceptions.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.