Coronavirus Fans Stadiums

Member Insights: “Watching Sport On Television Has Given So Many Of Us Our Pastime Back, But Is That Alone Enough?”

August 18, 2020

With the resumption of test events underway in England, such as last Sunday at the final of the World Snooker Championship, the country is aiming to be able to reintroduce fans back into sporting venues in early October, Ben Nichols says sport needs to be bullish but responsible for the good of the industry.

At times like these – if we’ve ever known such times – we tend to turn to experts to tell us how we’re going to find a way out of the tunnel.

Experts – and we might well have heard enough of so-called experts in recent years, as British politician, Michael Gove so memorably asserted – are something of a guiding star, people on which we hold so much faith that they can tell us, unequivocally, just how long these Covid times will impact us as they have. Just how quickly we can emerge from this tunnel of pandemic and despair and re-engage with life as we know it, or as we once knew it.

The reality is that no-one can guarantee when life will return to “normal”. Experts can hazard an (often very) educated guess, they can advise as to the best precautions to take, the risks associated with certain behaviours and actions and the effects that might have on catching Covid.

“Rather than playing a waiting game alone, the notion of confidence is so important”

Until ‘the vaccine’ is found to prevent Covid-19, or until the science tells us it’s safe to live our pre- 2020 lives once again, can we really breathe the collective sigh of relief we all so desire?

The answer is, unfortunately, no. So, that’s why, rather than playing a waiting game alone, the notion of confidence is so important. And there are few sectors, few industries more in need of confidence than sport right now.

Whilst a situation like Covid force feeds us all with a dose of perspective about the important things in life – and as much of those that love and work in sport like to believe sport is more than life and death, I think we acknowledge it’s not – we still like to look up to sport as a means of escape from the pandemic in which the world finds itself. Whilst, initially, at least (during the earlier weeks of Covid in early 2020) sport was forced to take a back seat, it has increasingly in the past month or two become the focus again as a bright light in these tricky times. Live sport (on television, at least) has been a welcome reprieve and a sign, perhaps just a sign at this stage, that the return of fans to sporting stadia is on the horizon.

“There’s something just not right about watching sport without fans in the stadia”

At least watching sport on television has given so many of us our pastime back, but is that alone enough? To many, it is not. There’s something just not right about watching sport without fans in the stadia and with broadcasters’ attempts at integrating fans’ cheers to compensate for the silence. There’s something not quite right about the World Championships Snooker – that calendar British event that usually coincides with the May Bank Holiday – taking place in the middle of summer. There’s something not right about what is usually the first golf major of the year, the Masters, taking place in November of all months. But then, this is not a normal year.

With all this change throwing us sports fans – and the industry – off course, it makes it all the more admirable that there are those out there prepared to be bold, to take a step aimed at getting sport back on its knees. That’s why, despite the recent setback, hats off should go to the UK Government (and, yes, our positive, optimistic and bullish Prime Minister) for taking measures to bring back live sport in stadia for fans, with all the necessary safety measures such as bluetooth chips to assist with track and trace intelligence gathering.

“Where some lead – and lead responsibly given the sensitivities of this pandemic – others will follow. Confidence is, partly at least, sport’s way out of this.”

The safety of fans must continue to be paramount, but it is the “can do”, entrepreneurially-minded organisations, governments, politicians and other individuals who look forward and focus on solutions that will reinstall confidence in people gathering for sport again. It is, after all, confidence that breeds confidence, and where some lead – and lead responsibly given the sensitivities of this pandemic – others will follow. Confidence is, partly at least, sport’s way out of this.

For it is those that adopt the proactive, solution-led, bullish attitude to carrying society out of this pandemic with confidence that sport needs to see more of. It is these individuals, organisations, companies and governments that we need to see more of if the UK’s possible 1st October return to stadia for live fans is to happen, even at partial capacity.

Because, after all, opting for a permanent waiting game strategy is no strategy at all.

Ben Nichols is an international sports communication consultant, who has previously worked for the Commonwealth Games Federation, Athletics Integrity Unit, World Anti-Doping Association and Right Formula.

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Coronavirus Fans Stadiums