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Sport’s Comforting Certainties on Shifting Ground

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A high school basketball championship game was played without fans in Lake Charles, La., on Friday. Photo: Rick Hickman / American Press, via Associated Press

By Mike Rowbottom |

One of the great appeals, and comforts, of sport is its certainty. Somebody wins. Somebody loses.

So, at a time when life’s certainties are being re-shaped almost daily, the suspension of the vast majority of sporting endeavours around the world leaves us without that constant register, that other land to inhabit.

Right now, sport, life’s microcosm, is rife with uncertainty.

Even on a mechanistic level, there are intractable problems.

Liverpool have, effectively, run away with the Premier League title. But suspension – as part of wider measures to counter the COVID-19 pandemic – has kicked-in before they have managed to get the title across the goal-line.

Officially the League is suspended until April 3. Unofficially, many in football believe that will be insufficient.

Meanwhile, the football world is busy with suggestions. Go with the League tables as they stand and Liverpool, for whom six points from their remaining nine games would guarantee the title, are declared champions.

Norwich City, Aston Villa and AFC Bournemouth would go down, but at that end of the table it is far more competitive. 

Bournemouth, for instance, are level on points with the two teams above them. And Liverpool, whose manager Jurgen Klopp has shown his customary humanity by pointing out that life is more important than sport, are desperate to avoid a generation of taunting from Evertonians over the undotted Is and uncrossed Ts…

Void the season and start again. Sorry?

Give Liverpool the title but arrange play-offs for the European qualifying and relegation places. How?

Simply complete the season when possible. The just and unarguable solution. But when?

When the advent of the Second World War forced the abandonment of the main English football season in 1939, there was relative simplicity in the decision given that sides in the First Division had only completed the first three games.

Blackpool led with three wins, and the two relegation places were occupied by Middlesbrough and Leeds United.

When the Football League proper resumed in 1946-47, Liverpool took the title and the relegation places were filled by Brentford and Leeds.

By the by, that Liverpool victory has a faint resonance. Having denied Wolves the title by beating them 2-1 at Molineux in their final match of the season on May 31, when they replaced their hosts at the top of the table, Liverpool had to wait until June 14 to be confirmed as champions. 

Stoke City, for whom victory in their delayed final match against Sheffield United would have meant them becoming champions on goal average, lost 2-1.

There we go. Irresistibly led down another little side road in the lovely land of sport…

And just as nations differ over the best way to slow or stem the coronavirus, football itself remains conflicted over the best way forward. 

While numerous leagues and competitions across Europe and beyond are postponed – including UEFA’s Champions League and Europa League – the European body has remained bullish about the prospects of the Euro 2020 competition, due to start on June 12 in Rome, the capital city of one of what is currently the world’s worst affected countries, taking place as planned.

UEFA is due to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow, however, which may lead to a different policy being announced.

Tomorrow, also, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is set to hold a conference call with International Federations (IFs) to discuss the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had upon efforts to stage qualification competitions for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

Many federations have already asked the IOC for an extension to the qualification period for the Olympics, which are due to open on July 24, while others are considering using their current rankings to determine its qualifiers.

The larger question, of course, remains as yet unanswered – can the Games go ahead as planned?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe insisted in a press conference on Saturday (March 14) that the country will host the Games “without problem as planned”, despite growing international concern.

“We will overcome the spread of the infection and host the Olympics without problem as planned,” Abe said.

The Japanese Prime Minister also said delaying the Games was “not even mentioned” during a telephone call he had with Donald Trump after the United States President suggested postponing them because of the virus.

You wonder what else they talked about.

It is probably not helpful, but personally I keep thinking of something that happened during the Nagano Winter Olympics of 1998, when I was among journalists and photographers being driven up to the Hakuba Ski Jumping Stadium in a bus that got jammed in traffic.

With the ski jumping due to start a request was made to the driver to let us out so we could join others who were already making their way up the snowy path on foot. He did not answer, or even acknowledge the request. Instead, face set under the peak of his cap, he stared furiously out of the windscreen.

As the clamour rose, and with a shaggy French photographer exclaiming: “Open the door! This is a disgrace! This is a violation of the people!”, our driver slammed open his side window, then slammed it shut again. He resumed his fierce staring.

Our Frenchman then leaned down and repeatedly sounded the horn. Meanwhile, a Polish journalist was holding a sign up to the window which read: “Help. We are kidnapped by driver!”

“Open the door now!” shouted the Frenchman. “No, no, no!” shouted the driver, before letting out a cry of indescribable frustration as he saw that one of the large safety windows halfway down the bus had been opened, and that journalists were already exiting. 

I joined them.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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