Obviously current events put sport in the shadow and make us realise just how insignificant it is in many ways. And yet, and yet, at the same time it makes us realise just how important sport is and what a great diversion it could be in these highly unusual times.
Whilst there is still some sport taking place around the world (of which more later), unless your knowledge of Belarusian football or US horse racing is better than ours, then betting on it might not be the wisest thing to do. That said, if you just use small stakes for a bit of fun it does provide at least something to get involved with.
But even if you can garner some enjoyment from watching Slutsk in action (that’s a Belarus PL team by the way!), it’s not quite the same as watching Liverpool v City is it? And watching a random card from Happy Valley in Hong Kong isn’t quite the same as watching the Guineas or Royal Ascot.
So the key question is, when is sport, REAL sport, coming back?
When Will Sport Start Again?
The simple answer is we really don’t know and it is probably at least a month away. We’re writing this in mid-April, with reports suggesting the government is likely to extend lockdown for three more weeks. That would take us to around the 7th May, although Prof Neil Ferguson, a scientific advisor to the government, has said that “We will have to maintain some level of social distancing, a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available.”
Whilst some degree of social distancing is not incompatible with the resumption of sport, it certainly suggests that “normal” is a long way off. Reports have suggested a vaccine could be ready before October but that is based on an absolute best-case scenario, with everything going perfectly and quickly from here. Even then it is unclear how many people could be vaccinated quickly but in reality most don’t expect wide scale vaccination to be in place until 2021 and possibly not until spring or even summer that year.
However, right now most sports fans, be they lovers of football, horse racing, golf, tennis or any other event, would gladly accept watching behind-closed-doors events on TV. In theory such events could be held quite quickly after lockdown ends but there are several caveats.
Firstly, we can’t be sure that lockdown will end in three weeks. Second, even if it does, it would take most, if not all sports, a little time to get back up to speed in terms of player fitness and readiness. That probably gives us mid or late May as an earliest possible return but even then we have two major problems.
Realistically anyone returning to involvement in sport, be that as a participant, coach or any other member of the staff coming into close contact with others, would need to be involved in testing for coronavirus.
Additionally, just about all major sports require the attendance of medical staff and often police. Much as wider society accepts the importance of sport, few would be comfortable with a Premier League side (footballers, of course, being the bogeymen of society!) taking medical or other key staff away from the front line.
The same is true of testing, with NHS workers and many other vital cogs in the battle against the pandemic well ahead of any sportspeople in the queue to be tested. Given we hardly seem to be thriving in the battle to roll out mass testing, it is really hard to say when we would be in such a position that those involved in sport could be tested.
OK, So When Will Sport Be Back?
Having said all of that, there are strong economic, health and morale reasons for getting major sporting events being played as soon as possible. The expected three week lockdown extension should give us a decent amount of time to expand testing and very much get past the peak.
We seem to be seeing the impact of social distancing already and that will increase over the coming weeks as those who got ill before it began become healthy and exit the hospitals. As said, we quite simply cannot know when sport will return but we expect a trickle of events to return, behind closed doors, from late May or early June. We certainly hope that’s the case, if not sooner, so fingers crossed!