The Matildas will play off for a bronze medal against the United State of America after being defeated 1-0 by Sweden in the semi-final at the Tokyo Olympics.
There’s no denying that sport occupies a troubled place in the COVID world.
While we’re used to seeing footballers shunted across closing borders, the Olympics will shine an even harsher light on what some will find irresponsible – the determination to play sport during a pandemic.
And questions must be asked. We’re sending a bunch of athletes to Tokyo while regular people can’t travel from New South Wales to Victoria.
The athletes suffer inconsistencies too. Victorian swimmers were refused border exemptions to attend Olympic trials, while the AFL season continued almost seamlessly.
And while some watched their life goals go down the drain at the last minute, the achievements of others were tainted by commentary about how irresponsible it was.
For the athletes, they’ve gone from being society’s heroes, encouraged to dream big, to being unwanted. But the dreams they had don’t go away just because it’s inconvenient now.
In these COVID times, no one seems to be winning. But even if we wanted to, could we really live without sport?
When I was a nursing student, I stood in the room of a patient at 8pm on a late shift. He was tuning in his old radio, and together we listened to the last minutes of the 2016 AFL preliminary final between GWS and the Western Bulldogs.
The hospital lights had dimmed by this time, like an aeroplane on an international flight – supposed to encourage sleep, but never quite dark or quiet enough. Everything had grated. All the staff seemed tired, and the patients bored or in pain.
It was the last shift of my placement block, and I was waiting for an early mark that wasn’t coming. The other students had been sent home already and I’d only have one day off before my next placement started.
I’d just trudged back from the drug room to give this man medication for his ten-out-of-ten pain when I mentioned the footy game. He was an older man, and used to spending time in hospital. He knew the place better than I did.
He hadn’t set up his TV, but pulled out an old radio and started tuning it in. ‘That’s the best I can get it,’ he said. I hadn’t listened to a radio in a long time.
With three minutes to go, the scores were level, the chance to play in the grand final at stake. As Jack Macrae slotted through a goal for the Bulldogs, we forgot where we were and leant in to hear the commentators’ voices crackling through the darkness.
Both our teams were out of the finals, but now this game was all that mattered.
My buddy nurse had left the room and we were absorbed in the scrap that was going on in the Giants’ forward line. The radio buzzed as the commentators yelled names with increasing urgency. The clock ticked down.
‘They won’t get there now,’ the man said. I kept listening with bated breath. But he was right. As the siren sounded and the Bulldogs burst into celebration, I slid back into the corridor with its chiming bells and alarms and went back to work.
The man lay back in his bed, sinking under blankets as he had been before. But it felt like somehow, in this shared moment, the footy had beamed out like a shaft of light amid the dimness of the ward.
Sport is a powerful thing, even during COVID. Especially during COVID. Sport is hope. It’s inspiration. It’s escape.
Think of the Olympic motto – faster, higher, stronger. The Games are the endeavour to conquer the human body’s limitations.
To symbolically push back against those same limitations that make us vulnerable to COVID: the same ones that made that patient spend yet another night in hospital in pain.
Sport represents the struggles of all of us against the weaknesses of these human bodies we’re stuck in. And that’s powerful.
So as those Olympians conquer gravity and momentum to go faster, higher and stronger, maybe they’ll be the hope for someone, in a dimly lit home or hospital bed, that we can conquer COVID too.