The sporting world has ground to a halt thanks to COVID-19.
In Australia and New Zealand, all levels of sport from the professional leagues to amateur and junior competitions have been indefinitely suspended. Professionally, domestic leagues will tentatively restart in the coming months. These early matches will be played in front of empty stadiums with only players, coaching staff and media in attendance. Gradually, depending on how far forward countries are in combating the effects of the virus, fans may even be allowed to attend in the months after.
For most international sports, a return to anything approximating business as usual this year seems incredibly unlikely. Travel restrictions will remain in place for at least another three to four months. For many locations, these restrictions could remain in place for longer. It’s difficult to imagine, for example, that the Wallabies will tour Europe in November or that the Indian cricket team will be on our shores in October.
In Australia and New Zealand, however, we appear to have been mercifully sheltered from the worst of this disease. As case numbers have fallen, our respective governments have signalled intentions to loosen social distancing laws and everyday restrictions. Scott Morrison has noted that Australia and New Zealand were in discussions about opening borders between the two nations. With this as a background, I propose the concept of a Trans-Tasman summer of international sport.
This Trans-Tasman summer could encompass any sport and should rely on a reciprocal arrangement whereby matches are hosted as equally as possible between Australia and New Zealand.
An example of this would include the Black Caps touring Australia for three Test matches, three ODIs and three T20s and the Australian team touring New Zealand with a reciprocal tour.
Similarly, home-and-away series could be organised for rugby union and league, netball, football, hockey, basketball and any other sport that was keen to participate. This could even incorporate sports not traditionally associated with Trans-Tasman rivalries such as an athletics or swimming meet, or a golf tournament.
With borders open, athletes and fans should be able to move between the two countries with relative ease. This would provide a much-needed tourism boost to both nations at a time when these struggling industries need it most. It would similarly provide a financial boost to the coffers of our struggling sports codes.
The prospect of high-quality international sport being played in front of large crowds at a time when many countries will be struggling to restart their domestic leagues would also have the potential to draw large numbers of overseas viewers.
I would propose two further caveats to this concept. Firstly, matches should not be confined to the large cities but should be played around the country. Watching live sport is a joy and that should be shared with as many people and areas as possible.
Secondly, and most importantly, the Trans-Tasman summer of sport should be used as a means of raising much needed money for charities. Like how the bushfires showed the importance of our volunteer fire services, the coronavirus has laid bare how essential our medical staff are.
The virus will also see tens of thousands out of work, relying on government welfare to survive. To have the summer of sport used as a conduit for raising money for these medical areas and protecting our most vulnerable would be truly great to see.
The year 2020 will be remembered by many as an annus horribilis. Sport, however, has the amazing power to bring people together and, at least for a moment, allow them forget the woes of the world. It may not be much, but to finish the year sitting in the sun with a beer watching sport with our friends and neighbours across the ditch sounds like a pretty good way to welcome in a better 2021.