Football is NOT a matter of life & death – UK should follow common sense and ABANDON Premier League season
The death knell sounded for French and Dutch football recently, and the Premier League should prick up their ears and listen – the only option is to null and void the 2019/20 season to prevent further loss of life.
Liverpool’s visionary manager Bill Shankly once said “some people say football is a matter of life and death – listen, it’s more important than that”.
Decades of paraphrasing and pontification passed down though after-dinner anecdotes have done nothing to denigrate the weight of the words of one of the game’s great pioneers: for some, football is much more than winning or losing a simple game.
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Rarely has Shankly’s most seminal turn of phrase taken on a more sobering and literal meaning than in the midst of the current Covid-19 crisis. That is precisely why Premier League football should not return during the current global pandemic but be abandoned to avoid senselessly risking countless more lives.
The Netherlands became the first major European league to take heed of medical experts’ advice and null and void their league championships, taking the bold step to obliterate the records for 2019/20 including the possibility of relegation, promotion and being crowned champion.
France recently followed suit and banned all sporting events until September, including the Ligue 1 football season, although it isn’t yet known whether the division will abandon their current standings.
All logical arguments points to the Premier League, the top football tier of a country that has already recorded the world’s fifth-highest cases of coronavirus and over 21,000 deaths from the disease, following suit.
But then, the football world has never been known for striking a chord with logic, nor being in tune with the planet of mere mortals, and is seemingly still dancing to its own beat as bosses are currently blundering on with plans for ‘Project Restart’ and a potentially fatal return to ‘normality’ in a social landscape scarred by chaos.
As part of the project, training grounds at Arsenal, Brighton and West Ham recently reopened for individual sessions as league chiefs look to push through plans to resume on June 8, the UEFA deadline of May 25 for leagues to decide looking ever more just a formality.
Football is perhaps missed now more than ever, as millions are locked down in quarantine without their great alleviator of problems, the welcome distraction from whatever burden bestowed by the general grind of life, especially now that life has itself ground to a point of humdrum.
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But resuming play even behind closed doors could precipitate a problem more deadly than the nation is currently facing: a second wave of Covid-19 infection.
Despite UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitting the country had “passed the peak” of the disease, a second wave remains a very real threat and the untimely introduction of mass gatherings that would fundamentally flout social-distancing measures considered paramount during lockdown would pose grave threats to the country’s collective health.
No measures, however strict, will safeguard completely against infection, which makes a mockery of the original decision to suspend play to avoid further infection which had then already afflicted Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea starlet Callum Hudson-Odoi.
On the continent, Juventus star Paulo Dybala has tested positive for the fourth time in six weeks and Montpellier’s 23-year-old midfielder Junior Sambia has been placed in an artificial coma due to contracting the disease. To continue play is a decision to play a game of chance with players’ lives.
A natural social reaction would be for fans and fun-seekers to naturally gather in groups to watch games on TV, perhaps deliberately mistaking the return to a once habitual social occurrence for a free pass for ultimate freedom of movement.
Conversely, match-going fans would be torturously forced to watch their team on television with no way of recreating the buzz and joy of being in the stadium, countering any lockdown alleviation introduced by televised games.
Aside from the social aspects the matter is as much an economic issue; it’s hardly a secret money is a fierce driving factor in the Premier League’s bullish attitude to restarting play, while staring at a £1.1 billion ($1.3 billion) projected loss and clubs lumbered with a £762 million ($946 million) deficit in television revenue.
Ultimately, no price can be put on life. French clubs are set to miss out on an estimated €650 million (£568 million) in broadcasting rights with the discontinuation of Ligue 1, but Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has since sensibly committed to serve the collective interest to ‘curb the epidemic’.
Thirty-nine years after his own death, the club for which Shankly built the foundations for decades of unrivalled success will ironically be the team to suffer heaviest if the Premier League season is discontinued.
Liverpool were sitting 25 points clear in top spot and on the brink of winning their first title in 30 years when the league was suspended in early April and now the only logical conclusion is to abandon it altogether.
That outcome, however abrupt, is undoubtedly a more reasonable sacrifice than any more potential victims to a silent killer of already 225,000 people worldwide.
Despite the much-loved soundbite that has become synonymous with the passion and dedication of fans that Shankly long ago scribbled onto the game’s annals of history, football should never be allowed to be a matter of life and death, least of all now, where common sense should prevail to curb and not accelerate a crisis.