End football season now; sport is an irrelevance in extended lockdown – Tom Richmond

EVEN though the daily death toll from Covid-19 is so depressing and dispiriting, there’s still a face – and grieving family – behind each and every number.

Friday, 17th April 2020, 11:45 am
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has spearheaded the #PlayersTogether initiative.

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Five thousand dead by the time the Queen delivered her historic TV address to the nation; 10,000 by Easter Day and the grim probability of 15,000 hospital deaths from the virus by the weekend.

Many high-profile sports fixtures don’t attract such numbers. And that’s without taking account of all those succumbing to coronavirus in the social care sector while the rest of us become fatigued by our own personal hardships emanating from the lockdown.

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Leeds United and Patrick Bamford were on course to win promotion to the Premier League before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

All the more reason to totally despair of those self-centred executives in football, and the rest of sport, who are impatient for fixtures to resume – never, I venture, have they been so out of touch.

Like the obsession that the Premier League and current football season must be completed at all costs in order to honour broadcasting deals which bankroll mega-salaries to elite players.

Like the infighting and threats of litigation north of the border over the chaotic vote to terminate the season in Scotland’s lower three divisions.

Like the arrogance of the racing executive who ventured on national radio that Royal Ascot should still go ahead behind closed doors in mid-June – even though some participants might be exposed to Covid-19. Talk about elitist.

Horse racing was last staged in Britain on March 17 at Wetherby behind closed doors.

I could go on – these are just three of many examples where sports administrators, and clubs, appear to have lost sight of the world’s daily trauma.

At least there are some Premier League players, like Jordan Henderson, who have shown great humanity and leadership by teaming up in the #PlayersTogether initiative and making personal donations to NHS charities.

They got it long before Health Secretary Matt Hancock tried to score a cheap political point. They’re also continuing to support hospices as they have done. And they realise the heroic and Herculean effort now under way is not of the country’s choosing.

It is out of necessity – simply to suppress Covid-19 until a time when the NHS will be even better placed to give intensive care to victims.

Don’t – for one moment – think that Britain will return to normal as soon as the Government considers it safe to lift the lockdown. The process will be gradual and priority given to specific sectors. Sport, I’m afraid, will be at the back of a long queue.

And let’s also remember that NHS staff – and other emergency workers – have been so overwhelmed by this crisis that it will be months, possibly longer, before any semblance of normality returns.

What insulting message will it send to them if they’re still working round-the-clock while the teams they support are playing to honour TV deals and the wider population is still in lockdown?

Surely our NHS heroes – and key workers – need to be the focus of attention, and receive the adulation of spectators, when it is safe for sport to resume from a public health and safety perspective?

And what about those wealthy clubs – like Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur to name two – who had the temerity to ‘furlough’ non-playing staff, while still paying huge weekly wages to top players, before being shamed into a U-turn?

I’m afraid such double standards – Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s innovative scheme was never intended for Premier League clubs – points to a sporting own goal like no other, a selfishness totally at odds with the national fight for survival. Do Liverpool – or Leeds United in the Championship – really want to be remembered as the coronavirus champions because of a desperation to complete the 2019-20 season? Not at all.

Sorry, the season is already an irrelevance – it should be declared ‘nil and void’ – and football should try to start again from scratch in August. It should be supporting those lower league teams genuinely fighting for financial survival.

And it’s the same with other sports. Start showing some common sense – like the organisers of Wimbledon and The Open golf have done – rather than jeopardising public health with their haste and compromising a recession-hit economy still further.

Horse racing, a sport I love, even risked totally misjudging the public mood by trying to resume too prematurely before accepting, on Wednesday, that this was not a tenable position. Thank goodness.

As the Second World War came to an end, there was a national desire for a swift resumption to signal a return to normality that was eventually showcased by the 1948 Olympics in London.

Even the reassuring summer sound of leather on willow would suffice after cricket’s prolonged winter hibernation. However the timing must be right. For, right now, sport has rarely been more irrelevant – or further down the nation’s list of priorities – when the only goal that matters is combating coronavirus.

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