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Owen: A Lesson from this Year of Crisis Management – Sport is Local

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Cheerleaders wear protective face masks during a game between the SK Wyverns and Hanwha Eagles at Munhak Baseball Stadium, Incheon, South Korea, on May 5. (REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)

By David Owen |

I was going to call this piece “the year of living dangerously”.

And then it occurred to me that not only would this not be terribly original, in my case – thankfully – it would also not be true.

For those of us still fortunate enough to be able to make a living without having to venture daily onto public transport or into cramped workplaces, it has been a year of frequent and myriad constraints, of no little frustration, but not of danger.

For those whom we on insidethegames mainly write about, meanwhile, as for many others, it strikes me that 2020 is likely to be remembered above all as the year of gruelling, quasi-perpetual crisis management.  

A year in which almost every sports body or business, with the possible exception of esport, has had to plot a survival path in the face of often drastically reduced income projections, while working out how and when that vital revenue spigot might be turned back up in a safe and responsible manner.

Many sports have duly succeeded in putting the show back on the road in some way shape or form, albeit often in empty, or largely empty, arenas.

More power to them; it cannot have been easy.

I must admit though, somewhat to my surprise, I have found it difficult to re-engage with elite-level sports contests during the bizarre little period of human history we are all currently enduring.

Somehow, those real-life exploits and soap operas that have held me spell-bound over so much of my life up to this point have seemed less compelling.

On Sunday (December 20), I felt almost no desire to watch that long-time staple of the British pre-Yuletide TV calendar, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and instead found myself riveted by a wickedly satirical, frequently laugh-out-loud-funny black comedy called The Death of Stalin.

If professional sport has occupied less of my life in 2020 than probably any other year I can remember, however, pandemic living has underlined most emphatically the importance of my personal grassroots sports activities and the various clubs that are associated with them.

Without them, I seriously doubt that I would have come through the past 10 to 12 months on such a (relatively) even keel.

This is even though, for weeks at a time, sport – except for a solitary bike-ride or perhaps a jog – was simply out of the question.

Indeed, it was especially in those periods when the companionship of team-mates and other like-minded individuals was most invaluable.

They provided ready-made virtual support networks, outside the family ambit, that continued to stimulate and enchant, and from time to time infuriate, in much the same way, I suppose, as structures like local gardening societies or wildlife groups do for others.

Except that by playing sport with people, however well or badly, you quickly get to know them remarkably well.

There are few things in this life that are more uplifting to be a part of, or so I have come to conclude, than a harmonious and mutually supportive recreational sports club, one in which winning or losing is not the be all and end all. 

Personal experience is also, I think, at the root of a proper appreciation of top-level international sports events such as the Olympics.

If your experience helps to give you even the tiniest insight into how extraordinarily difficult it is to perform at Olympic level, in any sport, you are likely to be more inclined to respect the majority of athletes, not just those with your particular flag pinned to their vest.

Without such an appreciation, events like the Olympics, the World Cup and others risk being reduced to orgies of nationalism, for the most part a divisive and pernicious emotion, as we are rediscovering to our cost.

To boil it down to an aphorism, this pandemic year has taught me – to paraphrase the late “Tip” O’Neill, the former United States House of Representatives speaker whose nickname, I now discover, was derived from a baseball player – that all sport, like politics, is local.

It is an observation which professional sports leaders would do well to consider as they struggle to navigate a way through this inordinately testing period.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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