By John Nekrasov (@john_nekrasov), contributor.
Our world is in limbo.
Since the coronavirus started spreading in late January, it has put life on hold for millions of people across the planet. Over 4,500 people have died, sending governments scrambling to contain the virus. Colleges across the U.S. are shutting down in droves, cities across the globe are banning large gatherings, and major sports leagues are putting competitions on hold.
Covid-19 is officially a pandemic.
When an invisible disease looms over society, uncertainty is king. As a college student, I’m waiting for my school to announce in the next couple days whether we’ll all be sent home for the next month. And that uncertainty that we’re all living with is slowly revealing a strange side effect of this pandemic: we may soon be living in a world without sports.
For millions of people across the globe, sports are an escape, a chance to forget about the pain and frustration and monotony of regular life. That escape is as rhythmic as the cycles of the moon, with games, seasons, postseasons and off-seasons balancing each other year after year – a cyclical ritual that almost nothing can stop.
Governments initially hoped that the virus would be contained, and leagues hoped to continue playing as usual. But from Milan, Italy, to Seattle, Washington, players and fans alike are coming to grips with the fact that the year 2020 will be like no other for the sports world.
As Covid-19 spread in Italy, Italy’s Serie A began playing games behind closed doors – then suspended the league indefinitely on Monday.
The NCAA announced Wednesday that March Madness will take place without any fans present. Now the NBA has announced that it has suspended its regular season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus before a game against the OKC Thunder. And now reports are circulating that Major League Soccer will suspend their season.
And so the sports world will slowly grind to a halt. If entire seasons are suspended or postponed, leagues will be faced with an unprecedented decision on how to proceed, how to solve problems of missed games and confused schedules.
As this virus spreads across the planet, sports coaches and officials are struggling with the same questions, doubts and worries with which we are all faced. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, rarely afraid to speak his mind on issues within the soccer world, questioned how soccer should proceed.
“There are things that are more important than football. I think we realize that again in this moment,” Klopp said. “What we need is time to find a solution for that. How can we win that time?”
As both sports and the world at large come to grips with this global crisis, our habits and rhythms will have to change too. We might not be able to gather in stadiums to watch soccer or baseball or basketball for a few months. Saturday morning Premier League broadcasts might go away.
But the world isn’t coming to an end. Though the entertainment and relaxation we find in sports might be put on hold for a while, we ultimately find meaning in sports because of the communities we build through them. That community will still exist, regardless of whether we can watch people kick a ball around a field for 90 minutes.
Just like with our city’s response to last week’s tornado, these tragedies, awful as they are, bring us together. That unity – whether singing together as a ball ripples the net or working together to help quarantined neighbors – is what makes sports culture special.
Though uncertainty is something we’re all learning to live with day by day, Covid-19 is not the end of sports. As complicated as fixing these logistical problems will be, the sports we play have never been about logistics and league structures. The chaos of the present, scary as it is, is ultimately a simple reminder that sports are special because people are special – and calling timeout on these sports is a decision made to protect those people.
The world will eventually return to normal, just like it did after the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918 and the many other epidemics throughout history. We’ll no longer have to stand six feet away from each other, and sports will come back to our stadiums and TV screens.
Everything will be alright in the end – but we may have to learn to live without our sports for a little while.
John Nekrasov is a journalism student at Liberty University and a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. He joins Speedway Soccer as a contributor for the 2020 season.
Cover photo by Casey Gower/Speedway Soccer