THE cancellation of Ireland’s Six Nations’ game against Italy in Dublin was one of the first sporting events to fall foul of the increasing Coronavirus crisis. There is a growing realisation that if we are to halt the virus spread we will probably need to postpone and even cancel further sporting fixtures. Unless of course, you are in the racing community whose supporters seem to have a stronger immunity than mere rugby fans.
While in Cheltenham, thousands of punters congregated in the pubs of the Gloucestershire town blissfully unaware of an approaching pandemic, a few miles north we saw the first Premier League game, between Man City and Arsenal, cancelled because one man shook the hand of someone he shouldn't have in Athens.
Anyway, these cancellations are a serious blow to sports fans and to the coffers of the clubs they support. But for some teams, the postponement of play may not necessarily turn out to be the disaster it would first appear.
The Six Nations cancellation has since been extended to England’s fixture against the Italians and Ireland’s final match against France in Paris.
Speculation has it that the games will be played in October but with so many other fixtures, like the Autumn Internationals, encroaching, maybe it would be better to call it quits on the 2020 Six Nations Championship.
At least for rugby’s premier European competition, outright cancellation would have little effect on the outcome as one would imagine that current table-toppers England would run up a score against the Italians beyond what second-placed France might inflict on Ireland, no matter how bad a day we might have in Paris. Calling the championship as complete would perhaps save the Italians and us some unwarranted pain and let England claim their title with as little fuss and publicity as possible. Win-win.
This week, the suspension of sporting activities ratcheted up significantly, when all sports’ events, at all levels within Italy, were called-off until April 3 at the earliest.
This includes all matches in Serie A, but the ban does not strangely cover Italian clubs’ participation in international events including the Champions League. This move will no doubt add to the pressure to call-off other sports events in the rest of Europe and beyond. For many Liverpool fans, this is now the biggest threat to a title aspiration that’s waited 30 years to be fulfilled.
Decades of below-par performances and near misses have left many fans of the Reds’ in a state of post-traumatic stress and any talk of cancelling the league or even suspending it is enough to throw them into a spiralling neurotic spin.
Liverpool’s win against Bournemouth and Man City’s defeat in the Manchester derby has hastened the Merseysiders’ assent to the Premier League throne and only an extreme decision to cancel the 2020 league due to the global pandemic can stop them now.
Realistically, any decision by the Premier League on dealing with the Coronavirus situation would likely see the remaining games be (unsatisfyingly) played behind closed doors. Alternatively, the league may decide to suspend the remainder of the season until later in the year, but with Euro 2020 coming hot on the heels of the season’s conclusion it will be hard to see how that is accommodated.
This threat may add to the desire of Liverpool to makes sure they claim the required six points as quickly as possible before any league suspension is imposed on their moment of destiny.
Yet a suspension of the season may not be the worst thing to happen to the runaway league leaders. Liverpool have been pretty much assured of the title since Christmas and it is now more a matter of when than how they will claim their 19th league crown. For many fans the focus has turned away from which match will secure them the final points, to when will they have their open-top bus parade through the streets of Liverpool city centre when the team will display the most craved for piece of silverware in football history.
If you thought Liverpool’s Champions League victory parade was impressive, well you ain’t seen nothing yet.
So, should it only take Liverpool until to the end of March to secure the title, it might throw a spanner in the works of their great celebrations because if gatherings for football matches are to be suspended then there will likely be no room for the gathering of a million Scousers thronging the streets of Liverpool to celebrate the prize they’ve most wanted and yearned for over three decades. But suspending the league for a month may provide the room to allow Liverpool fans the chance to gather in all their red glory without the fear of viruses and pandemics hanging over their treasured moment of glory.
Closer to home, there will be a growing call to suspend Irish sporting events too. The cancelling of the St Patrick’s Day parades across the country makes this all the more likely.
The national hurling and football leagues are advanced enough but did not escape a ban. Dublin, Mayo and Kerry football matches are really the only ones that gather enough of a crowd to matter anyway. Meanwhile, the summer’s championship is hopefully long enough away to not be affected by any deferments.
The sport under the greatest threat of cessation is the League of Ireland season. The league is just coming into its own with the promise of warm summer football ahead. But they are also the greatest gathering of sports fans in the country at the moment and the urge to adjourn proceedings will grow.
Not that this would be an altogether bad situation for some sides, including Cork City, who may see a moratorium in the action as a chance to steer the ship back on course, allow the players regroup and maybe start afresh with some tactical adjustments when the season returns.
Of course, the Coronavirus outbreak is a serious health crisis for the world and humanity. Mere sporting events cannot compare to the greater need to halt the spread of the virus and while it may seem an inconvenience and outright imposition on our beloved games at the moment, when lives are at stake we have to defer to the decisions of the experts and the medical teams. The only teams that truly deserve our full support.