As I write this article within the confounds of my home with family, I’ve been paying attention to the latest updates regarding the CoVid 19 outbreak on both sides of the Atlantic with a mixture of sadness and anger. Sadness because of many people that we know (in)directly who have been infected and in some cases have died. Anger because of the way countries have managed the virus, because of political incompetence, delayed responses and especially, the lack of supplies needed to fight this virus: mouth masks, ventilators and most importantly, medicines needed to both treat and inoculate the general public.
But one element that has become a real thorn on the side of many is sports. Yes, sports.
While sports provides a fraction of the revenue to help the economy of the country in general, it only serves as a fraction of the general revenue needed to keep the country running. With business, commerce, infrastructure, education, environment, manufacturing and even agriculture producing between 10 and 15% of the revenue for the country, sports belongs to the category of leisure time activities and produces a maximum of not more than 5%. It is understandable that many sporting leagues are concerned that with the Corona Virus forcing the governments to impose a total lockdown, keeping people in their homes and banning large public gatherings, they are losing revenue at an alarming rate. The longer the lockdown, the longer they will have to wait until they can resume play again, the more likely that if not the teams, the leagues themselves will be driven towards bankruptcy. Already today, the US Rugby League filed for receivership. Soccer leagues in Europe and the Americas may be next in line, as well as hockey, basketball, etc.
With billions of dollars in revenue and players receiving a lion’s share of the money, many are fearing a loss of income for longer periods of time, even if the leagues agree to continue paying for a limited period of time. This holds true if the lockdown is (partially) lifted and sports events can resume but in empty stadiums, where despite having no fans, contact between players can also potentially risk contracting the Corona Virus.
Therefore, I have one question for the sporting leagues, which is more important: sports and economy or the health and well-being of the general public?
Let’s look at some grim facts that indicate the latter is much more important. Europe is struggling to contain its virus as two thirds of the cases have stemmed from there. Germany alone has over 62,400 cases at the time of this article, ranking it third behind Italy and Spain. Already talks of extending the lockdown are in place as the peak will be reached by June. Asian countries are experiencing a slowdown in the number of new cases, whereas China is receiving only a trickle of new cases daily. Still, they are not out of the woods just yet as much of the country remains on lockdown. As for the US, let’s hope nobody writes a book on the country’s failing health care system, with grim prognosis of between 200,000 and 2.2 million dead and the virus expecting to linger through August. Who would want to play baseball in an empty stadium? Let alone soccer?
Almost all of the leagues have been trying to find a date to resume play for the sake of finishing the season. In the case like Major League Baseball, they are attempting to have a full to 75% full season that would start in June and end in November. Yet for the likes of the soccer leagues in Europe, the NHL in ice hockey and the NBA in basketball in the USA, they are all delaying the inevitable- the cancellation of the remaining season. And it is understandable because of the financial implications that cancelling the season has. However, as the old saying goes: Money can be replaced; People cannot be replaced.
Already, the Olympics have been pushed back almost exactly one year. It was a decision that was difficult for Japan, but it was a must for the safety of the athletes. The German ice hockey league decided to cancel the rest of the season with no teams being promoted or demoted for the next season. This model would work for the German Soccer League (Bundesliga) as well as all other international soccer leagues. The same goes for handball and basketball. The NCAA has cancelled all spring sports and granted an extended year of eligibility for seniors and more space in the colleges’ sports programs. Almost none of the college sports had begun before the decision was made to call it off. High school spring sports will not be that lucky with seniors having to walk off with their diplomas but without any chance of setting sports records, unless states agree to “redo” the entire school year. But that’s a different story.
What we are getting at here is we need to look at the real statistics and ask ourselves, are sports really worth the risk? I can imagine the world on total lockdown for much of the year, but much of the population having a slow recovery from the shock of losing business and people for months to come. Sports will be as hard hit as the global economy, where four out of five analysts are predicting the first Great Depression in over 90 years. The virus will reshape the lives of the global population in many aspects. What was important in our lives before the pandemic hit will be down at the bottom of the global food chain- at least for awhile. While one can assume the virus will disappear towards the end of the year, we may not be so sure about the predictions, given our current status. One can try and restart sports in the fall, beginning with American football, basketball and ice hockey, it’s realistic to say that 2020 will not see any sporting events around the globe. Only when the virus disappears and everyone is treated and inoculated will we see sports again in stadiums and on TV.
That would put us down to 2021, if everything goes as planned. For now, all sports leagues may want to look at the real situation in the now, 2020, and ask themselves: “Is it worth continuing the season and risk another outbreak?” For many sports fans it would be a blessing, however….
It’s safer to plan for 2021 when we know the virus will disappear, the curfews will be lifted and everyone is ready to pay for a good game in the stadium.