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Opinion

When life’s great distractor can no longer distract

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16th March, 2020
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For most readers of The Roar, sport would have presented itself as a welcome escape during life’s difficult times.

For some it might have been during periods of ill health or financial hardship. For me it was moving to a new city and adjusting to life with few to call on. The constancy of sport, its narratives, normalcy and excitement makes for a comforting blanket and welcome escape.

But with all sport either cancelled or waiting to be due to Covid-19, it can’t be that for now. That distractor, entertainer and unifier is gone for the time being, perhaps at a time when it’s most needed.

Not merely to allay a sense of anxiety (or boredom) that’s inevitably set to come, but as a driver of conversation and community. The endless debates on these pages about form, selection and club politics won’t cease, but will be in a different form in the months to come. And it’s set to be an adjustment.

Empty seats at the MCG

(Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

An adjustment, of course, that’s hardly difficult when compared with the very real potential impact of the coronavirus. Naturally, sport’s role should not be overstated at a time it is understandably being placed on life’s back burner. At a basic level it’s a secondary aspect of life, something broadcaster Gerard Whateley put nicely on Monday.

“You’ll have your own relationship with sport. I think of it as the dessert cart of life,” he said on SEN Radio. “No meal is complete without it. Usually it’s the best and most memorable part. But it’s not the entire meal.”

Sport isn’t for everyone, and certainly not worthy of special protection above any other industry. ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys wildly optimistic comment that “an Australia without rugby league is not Australia” only became more laughable when he pitched that the federal government “has to assist us in this crisis because it is not of our own doing”. Sporting bodies and clubs will inevitably struggle, and will do well to emerge in one piece, but aren’t special entities that deserve a leg-up over others.

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Sure, most have faced big crises before, but few where the economic ramifications are so big. Especially when the content mill it leans on goes completely dry. Never has sport either directly or indirectly employed so many, and for those like myself whose income depends on it, the upcoming months are filled with uncertainty and anxiety. But that, again, pales when compared with the health difficulties that others might face.

So what is sport’s role in the coming months? Little in the way of content. That we know. It’s fair to assume that in a matter of weeks (or less) there will be no sport for us to consume at all. On ABC’s QandA on Monday night, former president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Mukesh Haikerwal said he could not see the AFL reaching Round 4 before being suspended.

The NRL is sure to follow a similar path, while top-level cricket has been almost universally put on hold. With the height of the virus expected in the coming months, there will be a period where life’s great distractor provides nothing to distract us anymore.

ANZ Stadium empty

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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But sport is also memories, and excitement of what might come in future. Some have suggested that, in the absence of live games (or when that moment comes), broadcasters should play memorable old games for viewers to enjoy. Sure, that might not be for everyone, but it speaks to the nostalgia factor of sport that ideas similar to this have gained traction.

The absence of live sport doesn’t mean it will leave the agenda when communicating with family and friends in the months to come. Health and well being will be the first, second and third topic of conversation while many of us either work from home even self-isolate.

But fourth might just be about an upcoming season or event, however that looks when it finally comes around.