There is no live sport. Young men and women are furious at not being able to switch on TV to watch their favourite cricket and soccer, more so when schools and colleges are closed. They have few choices, so they have settled for video games! For two months now, some national or international sports federation or the other have been announcing postponement or cancellation of events every day following the spread of coronavirus. Some international sports personalities tested positive and many others self quarantined themselves as fear gripped everyone.
Is coronavirus the first major health crisis to toss the sports calendar into chaos? Even if not, this certainly is the biggest crisis. Many international and regional events were cancelled due to HIV, SARS, Avian Flu and Ebola. But they largely affected certain parts of the world and were quickly contained. SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), like Coronavirus, emanated from China and the two have similarities. Both viruses are transmitted through droplets that circulate in the air when the person tested positive coughs, sneezes or talks.
Bird Flu joined SARS to threaten the Beijing Olympics, but there was time to contain them, unlike the coronavirus, which is keeping IOC, the Japanese government and organisers on tenterhooks. The sports world is divided over Tokyo Olympics. Some want it to be postponed, Donald Trump being one of them, while some others want it cancelled. With four months to go, daily announcements from IOC and Tokyo read like medical bulletins. Everyone is hoping that the Games will be held as scheduled from July 24 to August 9. The IOC is in wait-and-watch mode.
There have been instances when IOC threatened organisers to shift the Games, expressing dissatisfaction with infrastructural work. It got into the act well in time and asked the government of the host nation to step in and help the organisers. The Games were not cancelled even when 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and later killed along with a German police officer by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September at the 1972 Munich Olympics, or the explosion at Atlanta’s Olympic Centennial Park in 1996.
The Olympics have also been hit by political posturing.
If 34 countries, mostly African, boycotted the 1976 edition when IOC refused to ban New Zealand for its national rugby union team touring South Africa earlier in the year in defiance of the United Nations’ call for a sporting embargo, 66 countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games over Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Los Angeles Olympics became a victim of the Cold War as 17 countries stayed away showing solidarity with the Soviet Union.
For years, the Olympic fraternity was divided over China-Taiwan and South-North Korea, but they never affected the Games as such with some compromise formula saving the situation. The world is still calculating the losses sports and sportspersons have to endure and for how long. As of now, international federations think that things should settle down in a month. The moratorium may not unduly affect superstars, though they tend to lose a sizable amount for not making an appearance. Athletes at the lower level will be hit hard by the cancellations.
Yes, not all footballers may be affected in the top rung of leagues, but it will imperil the growth of players at lower levels. Likewise, cricketers playing the global leagues will also take the hit, particularly the players in IPL. If overseas players pull out the charm of the popular league is lost, spectators will not bother to go to stadiums. World sport is worth over 100 billion dollars and any decline can lead to horrifying consequences. It could somehow manage even the 2008 economic crisis, but now it is now staring at major trouble. Sport is in a mess and market forces are unnerved.
(The writer is a veteran commentator. Views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)