County sports people - listen to Fraser!

The show must go on

It’s a pretty resilient thing, sport.

Tragedy seldom stops it, doping scandals merely taint it, terrorist attacks can even strengthen it.

But whether it’s the realisation for cycling fans that they’ve been duped into decades of false competition, cricketers taking bungs from bookmakers, or club owners negotiating a recession that has the bulk of society on its knees, one notion has always prevailed.

The show must go on.

Until now. The phrase ‘unprecedented times’ has already become such that it’s already up there with ‘good feet for a big man’ for stock go-to sentences, but let’s lay it all on the table here. We are in unprecedented times.

Sport, at both amateur and professional level, is regularly disrupted. Any Pembrokeshire footballer waiting for a 12pm Saturday phone call will reaffirm that. But having it halted indefinitely with no resumption in sight is unchartered territory for all of us.

After all, even the soldiers in World War One were allowed out to play football.

Perhaps it was the mythical notion that sport can conquer all that saw both Japan and the IOC insist for so long that Tokyo 2020 would go ahead. Eventually this week global pressure, coupled with the realisation it would only be home athletes involved, saw organisers succumb to the inevitable.

The logistics of switching an event of such magnitude, not to mention the financial implications, are of course colossal. And yet you sense the belligerent ‘it’s all rosy in our garden’ approach that last week led to Japan’s Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto to essentially hail business as usual, has done the country more harm than good.

This isn’t all to say sport and exercise doesn’t have a role to play in the weeks and months that lie ahead. Personal trainers and gym owners have been quick to stress that health and wellbeing is now more imperative than ever before. Home workouts are being bandied about online, and those into endurance must now ensure their allocated daily excursion is a worthwhile one.

Already clubs and organisations have moved to fill the competitive void. Ammanford AFC have instigated a 128 team online FIFA tournament to raise funds for the NHS, while the recent World Cup of Non-League Club Crests final between St Clears and Wirksworth Ivanhoe FC on Twitter was played out with such tension it might as well have been a Ryder Cup finale.

Other social media accounts have been innovative. Player profiles, archives, teams of the decade, all serve to keep members and fans engaged.

We as journalists also have a responsibility to adapt to. Whether it be via features, interviews, instigating debates, coverage can’t simply stop.

The action itself has temporarily ceased. But sport can never stand still.

It must now however, get real.

The much maligned WRU were decisive last week in opting to abort the season with immediate effect. It was of course harsh on sides on the brink of titles or cup finals, with Tumble RFC still voicing hope their Bowl semi-final would go ahead. You can understand the disappointment, one win away from a trip of a lifetime to the Principality Stadium. But while easier said than done, it’s time for teams, individuals, and authorities to put self-interest aside.

The WRU made the correct call. To try and re-start from here would invite chaos and they could make no exceptions.

In contrary, the FAW have dithered and tentatively postponed all domestic action until April 30th. Thousands of people across the UK will remain in isolation until the middle of June, and the Coronavirus pandemic will only escalate in the meantime. It’s a senseless notion.

All cricket activity in Pembrokeshire and beyond is forbidden and will remain so for some time yet. The grim suggestion that we won’t have a 2020 season is a rational one.

The list could go on. Even organisers of virtual races, proposed to allow athletes to honour their entries by competing alone and via Strava, have been forced to reconsider. Those who have already announced re-arranged dates have taken an unnecessary risk.

We all find ourselves in the unknown. A pandemic with no guaranteed end point. And when all is said and done, it will take more than a click of the fingers for sport at all levels to re-assemble and get going again. Speculating on possible resumption dates is as misleading as it is futile.

We must now park all thoughts of competitive action to one side.

Mind you, those in grassroots sport aren’t helped when nonsense comes from above. The Premier League of course differs from local football divisions. It has the scope, the finances, the facilities, to honour its completion - albeit so belatedly that the following campaign will be disrupted. But this week Martin Semmens, Southampton FC’s Chief Executive, proposed play resuming during the coronavirus outbreak.

“We can use football to show we are fighting back,” he said, in a statement which essentially translated to ‘Southampton can use football to keep make money while thousands die in the background.’

As mentioned, sport is resilient. But it’s not immortal. We have all been thrust into a pandemic in which people are dying. The latter three words alone should be enough to enforce perspective.

And yet personnel in sport, like society, seem intent on ploughing on regardless. Prior to Monday’s Government lockdown, for every packed supermarket there was a club bike ride. For every restaurant gathering there was a golf tournament. For every vague Boris Johnson guideline was a query as to whether we’ll be playing cricket in May.

Even in the past 48 hours, images of packed tube stations are going hand in hand with sightings of group runs.

Which underlines a chilling fear that sweeps through me as much as it does millions of others right now.

That there are personnel in sport, like society, who just have no f**king idea of what’s coming.