The great distraction. The preserver of health. For decades, centuries even, sports have been a constant: omnipresent on radio, Twitter, and general conversation. On weekends sports take centre stage in public parks and on our screens. An obsession reaching religious proportions and a force for good. And then, at the turn of the year, week by week, game by game, league by league and competition by competition, the curtains drew shut and silence filled empty stadiums. Then training grounds. Then public parks. The entire sporting calendar suspended to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
I once read that a weekend without Football is like a bag of chips without salt and vinegar. Worth savouring, but ultimately bland and anti-climactic. Now, after a 100-day enforced absence, the wait is finally over. Football is back.
On Thursday 30 May, after lengthily top-level talks, it was decided that the Premier League would return behind closed doors on 17 June. That’s today, in case you’re still stuck in March. Prior to this, football (rightly) took a backseat as we continued to face this totally unprecedented global crisis. As Jurgen Klopp put it: “football matches really aren’t that important” and not for the first time, he was right.
when public health and safety is the overriding priority, it’s easy to forget how big a part sport and football plays in our lives
Coronavirus has changed life as we know it. “A war against an invisible enemy”, as Emmanuel Macron described it – a war we’ve all been fighting, even if that’s by staying confined to the same four walls (with the exception of those trusty ‘advisors’). Old habits and behaviours regarded as sacrosanct have been flipped on their heads and we can’t just flick a switch and return to our former ways. The sooner we accept that, the better, and while it’s a lot to take in, there’s no reason we can’t come out of this stronger and transformed for the better. Nestled in all of this is the rebirth of football. Our return to sport is a guiding light at the end of this tunnel, and while today doesn’t mark the end of this darkness, it will be one element of normalcy we can welcome.
But this normalcy must not detract from key fundamentals that have come into focus over the past few months. First, how incredibly fragile we are as a population; second, the chronic underfunding and undervaluing of our National Health Service; and third, the importance of health and wellbeing. In other words, in a time of crisis, we’ve found a little something called perspective.
Sport is a part of our collective health and wellbeing and today at six, football, or what’s been commonly known as “the most important of the unimportant things in life”, finally returns. In the current climate, when public health and safety is the overriding priority, it’s easy to forget how big a part sport and football plays in our lives. Even me, a sports agent, lost sight of the role it plays in wider society. It’s easy to take for granted, but we saw from the return of football in Germany where the UK audience for the Bundesliga Saturday broadcast was 34 times higher than the season average, that the appetite is still there.
See for yourself the power of football to transform… helping heal divisions, pain and losses
For me, sports are never just sports. They’re entertainment, an escape, a routine structuring lives, organising weeks, harvesting seasons and provide the rhythm and pacing to each year. They create jobs, new connections and boost local economies. They bring nations together and can result in pure unadulterated joy and memories to last a lifetime. They offer numerous health, physical and mental benefits and, during lockdown, a source of relief to escape homes to exercise in local parks. Sports gives role models to young children and adults alike, offering collective hope and social stimulus. As Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” And like Jurgen, Nelson had a habit of saying the right thing.
And if that’s not enough, flick over to Amazon Prime and take in the emotional series This Is Football and watch the first episode: ‘Redemption’. See for yourself the power of football to transform the Rwandan nation, helping heal divisions, pain and losses. Oh yes, sport plays a role.
This pandemic has offered humanity a chance to restart. It’s shown that in the face of impending doom, we can change the way we live and re-establish our priorities and give us that perspective. Sport, in its own way, can help us come together and demonstrate solidarity – one game at a time. Take the recent decision by the Premier League to replace player names with ‘Black Lives Matter’, or Marcus Rashford forcing the Government to U-turn on free school meals. Sport, too, is a force for change.
As Captain Tom Moore said, ‘we must all carry on and remember things will get better’. And today, in a small way, they will do.