‘Project restart’: Pros and cons

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Published: May 10, 2020 2:40 AM

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has given the go-ahead to Bundesliga’s resumption, in the second half of this month, ending a two-month suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In Italy, Cristiano Ronaldo has begun his two-week quarantine after returning from Portugal.

With countries easing lockdown curbs, sport is contemplating a gradual reboot. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has given the go-ahead to Bundesliga’s resumption, in the second half of this month, ending a two-month suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In UK, a mid-June restart of the Premier League is being mulled on. In Spain, Lionel Messi and other La Liga stars have reported to their respective training grounds and were tested for Covid-19, with the league outlining its plans for a staggered return. In Italy, Cristiano Ronaldo has begun his two-week quarantine after returning from Portugal.

Among the major European nations, Germany has stood out in its fight against coronavirus. At 7,392, its death toll is far less than UK, Italy and Spain. The number of Covid-19 deaths has passed 30,000 both in UK and Italy. Spain has suffered over 26,000 coronavirus casualties. Germany has flattened the curve considerably and now the country is aiming to return to normality. Closed doors Bundesliga matches would be a major step in that direction. With nine matches remaining for every club — Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen have 10 matches left — the German top division is likely to close out the season by June-end.

The imminent resumption of football in Germany is a shot in the arm for a large number of people in English football fraternity who want to see out the Premier League season rather than voiding it. The Premier League’s ‘project restart’ has the UK government backing as well. As Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab mentioned, return of sport would lift the morale of a beleaguered nation that has suffered the highest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe.

“I think it would lift spirits of the nation and people would like to see us get back to work and children can go to school safely but also past times like sport,” Raab said during a government press conference.

Then again, in the midst of a serious health crisis, the apparent overdrive to restart the Premier League could be fraught with danger. Yes, the Premier League is staring at a £1 billion black hole if the season is voided. At the same time, there’s a school of thought that financial considerations must not overshadow the safety of players, coaches, support staff, officials and broadcast crew members; everybody who would be associated with the game. Players can train in isolation, they can avoid handshakes on the pitch, spitting will be banned, but in a full-contact sport like football, the two-metre physical distance rule can’t be implemented. No amount of bio-security — sanitised stadiums, empty stands, regular temperature checks and Covid-19 swabs of the participants — can completely eliminate the risk of playing football in the middle of a pandemic which is ravaging the world.

Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero has expressed his fear about returning to action. “The majority of players are scared because they have children and families,” Aguero told Spanish TV programme El Chiringuito. Brighton and Hove Albion centre-forward Glenn Murray has asked more pertinent questions. “Face masks are going to be off-putting. It’s not going to be natural. People will be ripping them off in games. It’s quite farcical,” he said, adding: “There will be ambulances at training and games. Is it fair to take those from the NHS? I don’t know. It’s not just two squads, there’s a lot more involved and it puts more people at risk.”

And yet, some Premier League stakeholders are seemingly insistent on a restart. Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish has no qualms about prioritising the monetary aspects. “Yes, it is partly about the money. And we should all care about the money. I genuinely don’t feel people are thinking clearly about the ramifications if we don’t play. We would be in a position where fundamentally we are airlines from August,” Parish drove home his point.
By a rough estimate, the global airline industry is set to lose $252 billion (£167 billion) in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Premier League’s revenue loss would be around £1 billion if the season is cancelled or voided. Of course, even at a fraction of what the airline industry would lose, it’s still a huge amount of money. But human life is priceless. So the ‘project restart’ backers could be accused of being greedy.

That would be an oversimplification though. Like a cardiologist friend was saying the other day, the world can’t stay indoors for an indefinite period. Normality has to be brought back step-by-step, else the entire system would run the risk of going into a complete meltdown. Nobody knows when a Covid-19 vaccine would be available in the market. So far, all the excitement about a quick heal has been restricted to social media posts and some political leaders’ high-octane press conferences.

Even with the BCG vaccine, tuberculosis claims close to 500,000 Indian lives every year. So there’s no guarantee that a Covid-19 vaccine will eliminate the virus.

Football is a massive part of the British culture. Fans see the football clubs they support as their extended families. The game’s return will indeed lift the morale of the Britons. The positivity might transmit to other countries as well. Due to the pandemic, the world, as we know it, has changed. Going ahead, we have to
embrace adaptability.

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