I am not a clinician, biologist, or epidemiologist. I am not employed by a government agency (foreign or domestic), a sports authority, or the travel industry.
I ‘do’ websites.
Yet, I was warning my parents not to travel to abroad, had boxes of food in the basement, and foresaw the cancelling of fixtures, all weeks before anyone in the UK or US began panicking.
I advise both The Lancet and Cell Press on their websites. These are two of the world’s most prestigious scholarly publishing houses. When they speak, people listen; what they publish, everyone reads.
Late in January, The Lancet published its first coronavirus content. Over the next month, our daily visits exploded, growth unlike anything I’ve witnessed. By mid-February, this was clearly a global event of historic proportions barreling towards us all.
It’s safe to say there is no sign of decline in coronavirus content being published or read. We are in the thick of it. The life science community charge on in hope of creating a vaccine. IF they are ever developed.
Vaccines can take years to create and disseminate. The clinical community continue to publish studies, hoping to identify treatments and reporting on the pandemic’s impact.
Again, I am not an expert. But the signals I see, showing how the health and science communities are using our publications, plus studies across the web, suggest you shouldn’t be booking holidays. I’m talking winter breaks, not summer sun (which should have long been cancelled). As historical data shows, these outbreaks resurge just as football season is due to gain momentum in autumn.
Which brings me to a three (possibly) unpopular conclusions.
Firstly, I’ve seen numerous tweets declaring “players should refuse to play if they don’t feel safe”. From my standpoint that’s neither useful, nor scientific. “Feeling safe” is subjective and I suspect very few people will feel safe this year. Giving side-eye to anyone coughing, sneezing, or getting to close to you in an open space will remain the 2020 norm.
Does anyone really expect to feel safe in a crowded football stadium? Or for players in a full-contact sport?
The decision to return to playing must be scientific, with reduced risk, and not decided by individual feelings. But we must accept that with any occupation, there can be no risk-free solution. Let’s not forget, players weren’t furloughed because ‘they’re still training and ready to play’.
Secondly, how to end the 2019/20 season is the least of the FA’s worries. That can be decided without a ball being kicked. Yes, it will be expensive. Refunds. Litigation. Teams in administration. But no lives need be lost.
However, the summer window is short. Very short when you’re suffering a worldwide pandemic. Let’s finish it now, either on points-per-game or cancel the season. Then move on.
Lastly, those who vocally object to empty stadiums and neutral grounds with microphones turned down to obscure swearing, need to reconsider their opinions. Do we really want half of London commuting round the country once or twice a week to rub shoulder-to-shoulder with locals, just in time for the second wave?
If there is to be a 2020/21 season we need either a vaccine, or a radically different sport. The coronavirus is playing the long-game and we must too.
That could mean no home or away matches, just a few neutral ‘clean as possible’ venues. No fans. No internationals. No pre-season friendlies. No spitting on the pitch. The season starting in spring. All games televised. A Zoom chorus of “On the Ball, City”. Online watching parties. Plus many more changes I can’t begin to comprehend.
Let’s accept that if the sport is to exist come next year, there must be short, medium, and long-term changes to the game and to the industry, and we may not like them all.