Mondli Makhanya: Virus that stole our season

The English Premier League has been suspended due to coronavirus fears. Picture: Getty Images
The English Premier League has been suspended due to coronavirus fears. Picture: Getty Images

There is a great column on the Eurosport website called The Warm-Up.

It contains some of the most beautiful and witty writing about football that you will find anywhere – the sort of prose that makes you want to whistle wistfully as you slurp your vanilla milkshake.

This week, The Warm-Up was sombre as the human race reeled from one of the biggest crises we’ve faced in modern history.

What follows is a passage from the column published on Friday.

“The Warm-Up needs to be honest with you all for a moment. It didn’t watch the football last night. Any of it.

This is a football column and, admittedly, this could be a problem. But sometimes it’s hard to focus on sport, even one as glorious as football.

For many in the world, the true devastating nature of Covid-19 really hit home when the leagues were suspended.

“When you are literally having WhatsApp conversations with ageing relatives designed to try to improve their chances of avoiding a premature death; when the prime minister is telling the nation that ‘many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time’; when you are keeping a mental note of how many packs of pasta you have left in your cupboard because the local supermarkets have totally sold out; and when Iran is alleged to be digging mass graves to house coronavirus victims, the fact that Odion Ighalo has just scored for Manchester United becomes background noise.”

It continued: “In moments like this – at times which are truly unprecedented in our lifetimes – sport has to take a back seat.

And so it did, mostly, on a day of carnage, when major sporting events were being cancelled seemingly every five minutes.”

So, today, when all sound-minded people would usually be planning their afternoons and evenings around football fixtures, they will be scratching their heads and wondering what to do with themselves.

We will be deprived of the opportunity to see the mighty Tottenham Hotspur plunge the knife into Manchester United.

During the week, when the mouth-watering second legs of the Champions League Last 16 would have been the sole focus of our attention, we will have to find something else to occupy ourselves.

There will be no Juventus versus Lyon; Manchester City versus Real Madrid; Bayern Munich versus Chelsea; or Barcelona versus Napoli. And, for at least the next month, we will spend weekends twiddling our thumbs.

 

Read: Covid-19 safety measures in football

It is bad enough that we have to endure the off-season months of June and July without the beautiful game every year.

So this enforced break is torturous in the extreme.

You are probably saying: “Go read a book, run a marathon, go birdwatching, play a round of golf or braai some meat, moron.” Yes, all of those are worthy activities, but what worth is human existence without football?

This lowly newspaperman knows that the fanatics of lesser sports that have been affected by the dreaded Covid-19 coronavirus think their depression matches and even surpasses that of a football lover.

But, really, what is the cancellation of a Formula One race here, a cycling tour there, a road race here and tennis open there in comparison with the deprivation faced by billions of people of their vital route to sanity and serenity?

Those people can live without their favourite sports because they are not as essential to the functioning of their minds and the tranquillity of their souls as football is to those who worship it.

For many in the world, the true devastating nature of Covid-19 really hit home when the leagues were suspended.

Even more than the skyrocketing infection numbers and climbing death rate, even more than the World Health Organisation declaring Covid-19 a pandemic and even more than the crashing stock markets, the disruption of the football season demonstrates the stark reality that this virus is real and it is biting.

So, it may well be football that psychologically plays a crucial role in helping us defeat this damn virus that stole our season.

Making these drastic decisions was a brave act of leadership on the part of the sporting bosses, who are largely known for being self-interested.

By taking this action, they are not only sacrificing billions in revenue, but also earning the ire of fans who fail to see that it is they who are being protected.

When Uefa ordered that Paris Saint-Germain’s game against Borussia Dortmund be played behind closed doors, their fans camped outside the stadium in their thousands and cheered their heroes on while watching the game on their cellphones and other gadgets.

This totally defeated the purpose of the fan ban. “Our Only Virus is PSG,” a defiant banner read.

As the virus spreads and the period of league suspensions stretches, there is hope that the educational value of being deprived of football will also cause some changes in human behaviour.

If there is anything that can drive a message home – be it about humanitarian causes or issues such as health – it is sport, arts and culture.

And when it comes to sport, there is no better weapon than the game of football; that beautiful thing that is embraced by the Earth’s sensible citizens.

So, it may well be football that psychologically plays a crucial role in helping us defeat this damn virus that stole our season.


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