Does that also mean the clubs have forfeited rights, at least this year? It’s not clear. Gratifyingly, it appears that councils, like governments, are trying to be more obliging than they are by reputation.
In the new normal, expect the balance to change, at least for a while, perhaps a long while. It might be the balance between sport and recreation, the balance between pro and park sport or the balance between team sport and individual.
Pro sport, we already know, will be smaller and leaner. For the rest of this year at least, it will have no or statutorily sparse crowds. Will this mean it loses some of its sheen? It’s hard to believe that it won’t. It’s not just that the crowds miss the players, but the players miss the crowd and the adrenaline rush they bring. They say so.
We’re dwelling on footy right now because of its palpable absence. It’s a stressed industry, like so many others, and the stresses are bound to show.
In England, there is already some low-level discussion about how county cricket, for instance, might have to become semi-pro again. Not everyone thinks this is a bad thing. Some are convinced that at a certain level, paid sport had become an indulgence anyway, and now will become a relic of a time when the coffers were overflowing with television cash. The coughers have put paid to that.
In AFL footy, good players will be squeezed out. Will this lead to a rise in standards down the line, or a thinning of the stock altogether? Will footballers good enough to play for big money now play for less at a lesser level? Will they play for love only? Anecdotally, the answer is not so much. Forced to choose between footy and work, those who have work are choosing to work. In an uncertain world, it’s the prudent thing.
Logically, individual sports will resume sooner than team sports. Some never really stopped. Golfers are back out there already, tennis players can’t be far behind. In truth, some golfers and their political boosters did not do their cause much good in their enforced idleness with their bleating about the gross injustice of it all. It left a lot of people teed off. Talk about privilege. Entitled, self-entitled, Titleist.
None the less, as they waddled down the fairways again this week, it was subliminally clear: individual sportspeople fit the isolation protocols in a way that team sports never can. This will exercise minds at least.
For contact sports, it is harder still. Somehow, footballers (of all codes), basketballers, netballers and hockey players must keep their touch while keeping their distance. You don’t have to go far to sense the frustration. It’s not necessarily with authorities, but at the turn of events.
Will sport at a social distance – no celebration, no socials, no clubrooms, constant wariness – lose some of its gloss? It’s hard to think otherwise. Alternately, old habits will die too hard, sportspeople will forget themselves and the return to normal will become a disorderly rush, putting the whole national anti-COVID project at risk, and sport back with shopping and schools at square one. Medical authorities fear this and warn about it.
In this pot pouri of lost loves, thwarted habits, strange new horizons and general rattiness, it is easy to believe that the demographics of sport will change. Pro sport will be plainer, community sport thinner. The pyramid will flatten. It won’t be this way forever, but nor will it ever be as it was; nothing that fractures on this scale ever regains its old shape perfectly.
The line between sport and recreation may blur again. By recreation, I mean activities that can be done by anyone, anywhere, and cost nothing. If you want an example, have a look at your local footy ground on a sunny Saturday afternoon in this weird time of eternal off-season. It may be that Jared Tallent was on the right track all along.
Greg Baum is chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age.