By Shahid Judge
Yes, the deafening roars from the stands will be missed, but it’s in times like these where sport is of great importance. It inspires, entertains & unites
Inter Milan’s Ultras are a remarkable, and often devastating group of football supporters. They’re die-hard fans of the club who know no boundaries when it comes to cheering for their team. You can tell it in the way they endorse the use of racial slurs simply to rattle an opponent—but by no means do they hold any racism in their hearts once a match ends. That’s why they defended Cagliari fans’ abuse of Inter’s Romelu Lukaku when they netted the winner when the two teams met.
“We understand that it could have seemed racist to you, but it is not like that. In Italy we use some ‘ways’ only to ‘help our teams’ and to try to make our opponents nervous, not for racism but to mess them up,” read a part of the statement they published on social media.
In 2005, when the Ultras let off flares in the stands and threw rockets onto the pitch during a Milan Derby, hitting rival goalkeeper Dida on the shoulder, UEFA decided to hand Inter a fine and the punishment of playing their next four European home matches behind closed doors.
Playing with empty stands was a strong penalty back then. Today, with the outbreak of the pandemic Coronavirus, it’s no longer a punishment. It’s a norm.
The idea of matches taking place with empty stands seems like a good idea. In fact, there’s been criticism when it doesn’t happen. Take Liverpool’s recent hosting of Atletico Madrid in the c, for example. The Madrid team travelled to England with 3,000 supporters—this at a time when the Spanish capital had recorded 1,388 positive cases. A day after the match, the city of Liverpool confirmed 10 positive cases of people contracting the virus.
But sport behind closed doors is not going to be the same. There will be no cheers, jeers—or racial slurs—after a goal is scored. No high jumper, long jumper, javelin thrower, sprinter et al will wave their arms to ask the crowd for support. A batter will raise and point the bat after a solid knock only at his teammates for there will be nobody else in the stands to raise it to. In the NBA, there will be no fan engagement, nobody to flex a bicep for a ‘muscle cam’ during the intervals. No Mexican wave. And in tennis, there won’t be any crowd disturbances—which, daresay, gives Nick Kyrgios one reason less to throw a tantrum. But importantly, no unknowing carrier of the Coronavirus can spread it to a packed stadium filled with unsuspecting fans.
Playing behind closed doors takes away a vital cog, but sport still remains. As the sporting world goes through a blanket suspension for the next few weeks, the spirit of competition will be missed. But when the dust settles a bit, playing with empty stands may just be a necessary precaution, but at least the ball will still be rolling.
Broadcasters and sponsors will be happy in particular. The brand name on a jersey, on the hoardings, on the television commercials, they’ll all get their stipulated airing time—perhaps a bit more since there will be nobody in the stands for cameras to focus on. And keeping sponsors happy in this day and age is crucial to the survival of sport.
The games will be functioning as usual, but the deafening roars from the stands will be missing. The cheers are that extra push for the players to run a bit faster, jump a bit higher. It’s what makes underdog home teams pull off spectacular wins in the Davis Cup. It’s what helped Brazilian pole vaulter Thiago Braz da Silva beat world record holder Renaud Lavillenie to an Olympic gold in Rio 2016 by a mere 5 cm. And, of course, there was a certain Indian team that won the 2011 Cricket World Cup at home.
It’s in times like these where sport is of great importance. It’s a tool that inspires, entertains, and unites. And sport will endure—the world needs it to right now. All that may be required, for a while, is to let those mighty athletes ply their trade in the cauldron of emotions called a stadium, where the silence in the stands, for the time being, is for the greater good.