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It's game over for now, but we will bounce back

Eamonn Sweeney


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‘If the loss of sport has been the harbinger of darkness these past few days, its eventual return will be the signal that things are back to normal’. Photo: David Conachy

‘If the loss of sport has been the harbinger of darkness these past few days, its eventual return will be the signal that things are back to normal’. Photo: David Conachy

‘If the loss of sport has been the harbinger of darkness these past few days, its eventual return will be the signal that things are back to normal’. Photo: David Conachy

These will be the days without sport. For the next few weeks, or even months, we must learn to live without the sound of a ball being kicked or struck, the cheer from the crowd and the referee's whistle. No game will be played, no stand filled, no pub thronged with friends gathered to follow the fortunes of a favourite team.

The march of Liverpool, Rory McIlroy, Dublin, the LA Lakers and Novak Djokovic has been halted by an opponent they'd never heard of two months ago. And for many people the cancellation of sporting events will be the canary in the coalmine which brings home just how serious the situation is.

We love sport in this country. The playing of it, the coaching of it, the following of it and the talking about it contribute an enormous amount to our general sense of wellbeing. Its sudden and complete absence from the national landscape will be a psychological blow for many of us because sport can seem like a necessity rather than a luxury.

It isn't, not in the way that health is. Which is why we'll accept these unprecedented restrictions without question. But it's unrealistic to expect people to spend the next while thinking about nothing but Covid-19. Even though they'll know it's for the best, the loss of an important area of their life will make them feel bereft to a certain extent. That can't be helped.

But it may be that sport can help as we bid to minimise the effect of the pandemic. The strong community bonds forged over decades by local sporting clubs of all varieties will have helped build the unselfish social cohesion necessary to make the campaign against the virus as efficient as possible.

Participation in sport instils qualities of resilience and determination which help greatly in tough times. That sense of common purpose and joint effort gained from following our national teams will be invaluable as our society is tested in a new way.

Your world doesn't have to be entirely without sport. A kick around in the back yard with your kids, a jog or a spin on the bike will work wonders in staving off cabin fever. Even thinking about what might happen when the sporting world returns to normal will be much better for you than dwelling on matters of disease.

If the loss of sport has been the harbinger of darkness these past few days, its eventual return will be the signal that things are back to normal. That day will come and I suspect that when it does we will appreciate that first game we play or see as we never appreciated one before. Our resolution to never ever give out about a referee again may even last as long as the second half.

It's easy to think at this moment that you'll never care about sport in the same way again. At a time like this it can even seem slightly indecent to ponder matters sporting. No-one wants to be like the journo who said to Aston Villa goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer, forced out of a European Cup final early on by injury, "You must be the most disappointed man in England right now," the day after almost 50 British soldiers had been killed in the Falklands War.

But the fact is that even the worst disasters do not prevent a society from caring about the things it has always cared about. On St Stephen's Day 2004 167,540 people were killed in Indonesia by the horrendous tsunami already almost forgotten on this side of the world.

Less than two weeks later Indonesia, managed by Peter Withe who'd scored the winner the night Jimmy Rimmer got injured, hosted Singapore in the first leg of the final of the Tiger Cup, the principal competition for South East Asian nations. The Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta was packed and the atmosphere was raucous.

There are many historical parallels, not least that almost every country in Europe had a domestic football season immediately after the end of the Second World War. Carrying on after catastrophe is neither cold-blooded nor shallow. It is the most essential human quality.

Because everything, the lives we live, the games we play, the people we love, perpetually exists in the shadow of death. Situations like the current one merely make that shadow loom larger. In the face of that ultimate reality, resilience is all. Without an ability to enjoy the apparently ephemeral and trivial, life would be unbearable.

Attempts to blame some sporting body or other for their behaviour in the face of the pandemic are singularly inappropriate. This is unknown territory for them as well as the rest of us. Given that nobody really knows how to deal with such an unprecedented threat, the usual search for scapegoats and villains should be suspended. Kindness and understanding will be better companions for you in the weeks to come than anger and recrimination. This is not the time to go riding your favourite political hobbyhorse, whatever its colour.

I'm as worried as you are. My mother is over 80 and has survived two serious bouts with cancer. In her darkest hours, she told me, what sustained her was the memory of her father's favourite motto in times of adversity. "Coinnigh do mhisneach," he'd say. It means 'keep your courage'. This Connemara man grew up at a time when TB and other diseases made the spectre of mortality much more apparent than it has been in our day.

Coinnigh do mhisneach, be careful out there and remember that when it comes to this opponent we're all on the same team.

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