Orville Higgins | The new normal after COVID-19
As the world continues to grapple with the dreaded novel coronavirus, one cannot help but wonder what a post-COVID-19 world will be like, especially in the world of sports. Sportsmen and sportswomen all over the globe have seen their world come to a grinding halt. This virus is causing people to be dying like flies. The net effect of all this on the psyche of sports personalities must be immense. How will world sports change when things get back to normal? Will the lingering effects of COVID-19 affect the way sports will be played in the months and years immediately after this pandemic has passed?
Will we still see footballers jumping all over each other in celebration of a goal in the months after this thing has passed? Will we see the goalscorer celebrating by himself while his teammates give him the thumbs up from six feet away? Will we see those crazy slide tackles where defender and attacker end up in one heap on the pitch, or will that be a thing of the past? Will we still see players swapping and wearing shirts of the opponents after a game, or will players be too coronavirus-conscious to do things like that?
One of the biggest and most time-honoured practices in sports is the shaking of one’s opponent’s hand after a game. Will that tradition continue in the months after this coronavirus has passed? Will more players start wearing gloves? In cricket, the high-fiving of a successful wicket-taker is standard. Will that still be the case in the months when we are told COVID-19 is no longer with us? Hugging your teammate for a job well done is part and parcel of sports. Will that be as prevalent when sports are finally resumed?
Will boxing and other combat sports be as they are now? Will boxers, for example, insist that their opponents be tested and quarantined before a fight? Will referees feel a little sceptical about getting in-between hot, sweaty boxers to break them up? How long will it take before sportsmen start feeling normal around each other again? In the long-distance events, will we see runners willingly bundling at the start of a race? In the shot put and throwing events, will we see officials and athletes sanitising themselves or washing their hands after each throw? Will we see long jumpers gladly jumping into a sandpit after his opponents? Will sports like basketball and netball have less contact because of lingering fears of contracting the disease?
We know the day will come when this deadly virus won’t be such a threat. One day, we will be told that it is safe to play sports again. Will the players act differently towards each other when they return to action? What of the spectators? Will we feel comfortable sitting in a packed stadium the weeks and months after we hear that the virus has passed? Will we still have our guards up?
The message about social distancing is now becoming part of our very consciousness. How long will it be after we are told that the virus has passed before we feel okay to be in close proximity to other people again, especially those we don’t know? Sure, the day will come when the powers that be will tell us that the worst has passed and that we are now safe. Getting the virus out of people’s bodies is one thing; getting it out of their minds is going to be another thing altogether. Like it is with enslavement, the lingering mental effects of COVID-19 may last for a much, much longer time than the disease itself. It may take many moons before sports are played the way they used to be before this ‘big C’ came along.