Nearly a quarter of a century ago a mid-ranking Hollywood thriller was predicated on the notion that society will divide into pre-determined “haves” and “have nots” because of the genetic susceptibility of a person to various forms of disease and illness. The sheep will be separated from the goats by eugenics and biometrics.
Much of the plot ofinvolves the moral challenges of testing and certification and the problems of possessing the wrong kind of DNA. So far, so cyberpunk. Plenty there to enthuse molecular biologists and bio-ethicists. Not so much for ticket holders on Hill 16, or the Kop or the West Stand at Thomond.
But that is changing as the sports world and its business managers struggle to emerge from the curse of Covid-19 and encourage the return of fans and their spending power.
Failure to guarantee a minimal number of spectators threatens Dublin’s prospects of hosting three Group E matches and a last-16 tie from the delayed Euro 2020 tournament. Other nations including England, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Russia remain bullish about opening the turnstiles this summer.
While Ireland may be suffering from a surfeit of honesty and/or realism you don’t have to be a weatherman, as Bob Dylan reminded us, to know which way the wind blows.
The Bahrain Grand Prix, the first race in this year’s competition, was accessible to fully vaccinated customers or those who could prove they had wholly recovered from the virus utilising the state’s ubiquitous BeAware app — 4,500 F1 followers attended.
Italy is not prepared to take the risk for the next championship at Imola in eight days but the Portuguese are pinning their hopes on rapid testing allowing general access to the Autodromo do Algarve at Portimao on May 2.
In India, which hosts a 16-nation T20 cricket World Cup this October, authorities have had some preliminary stress testing with the March tour by England. The first two matches at the 132,000 capacity Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad attracted around 60,000 for each but a total ban followed a rise in Covid-19 cases in Gujarat.
What the experience in India showed was that there was significant flouting of social distancing with many abandoning masks. During a Day/Night Test a fan evaded security and ran onto the field to greet Indian captain Virat Kohli, thus puncturing the player’s bio bubble.
This weekend marks the opening of the Indian Premier League season, the outcomes of which will inform the decisions of sports administrators everywhere. The organisers of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo will not allow overseas visitors and are refunding more than 600,000 international tickets while the British and Irish Lions tour and its followers await imminent guidance for July and August although that country remains on the UK Red List for travel.
With the Champions League and Europa League and most premier football competitions still being held behind closed doors the next month may see some significant initiatives to break the deadlock on lockdown.
In Russia, Zenit St Petersburg is offering free Sputnik V vaccines to all its fans attending home matches at the Gazprom Arena. Meanwhile the British government is limbering up on the sidelines of club football, never a pleasing prospect.
A phased return is being trialled with the FA Cup semi-final between Southampton and Leicester next weekend while Tottenham and Manchester City are to be granted 2,000 tickets each for the Carabao Cup Final at Wembley in a fortnight.
There is a suggestion that the City faithful will have to utilise special “Covid-secure” transport if they want to attend. All supporters will also have to demonstrate that they have been vaccinated, have tested negative or have immunity.
Difficult though it may be to believe, the British government approach to allowing the crowds back has been characterised by vagueness, ambiguity and misdirection. Its preferred solution may involve a “covid status certificate” which might allow a vaccination record to be supplemented by an antibody test and linked to a smart card and perhaps a season ticket. The technology is already racing away under the benevolent eye of the UK Rapid Test Consortium.
This combination of big tech, big pharma, big brains, and the profit opportunity may be a wonderful thing and it has the attention of major sports stadia, organisations and entrepreneurs particularly in rugby and soccer. It’s also the reason that these people get the big bucks.
It is important to take an individual position on whether we are willing to accept a medically-based apartheid system for watching professional sport.
Let me declare myself as I stand on the cusp of my second jab. I have no problem with nations setting rules for entry across their borders. I have carried around vaccination certificates before, and I will again. Their rules are their rules. There is a world of difference between this and access to everyday experiences in our own societies. Availability of vaccines across Europe is patchy, political and contains an inherent bias against the young who have already suffered greatly in the pandemic. Goalposts are continuously being moved. Once vaccination becomes a precursor to social inclusion it implies compulsion, and it will be a disaster.
That current aphorism that “no one is safe until everyone is safe”, while glib, has a core truth. And restrictions which hold everyone in place must have a sunset clause because governments always overreach and technocrats and bureaucrats are particularly susceptible to mission creep.
One of the more memorable quotes from Gattaca (which was set in the “not too distant future”) is this: “I belong to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the colour of your skin. We now have discrimination down to a science.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy that. And I won’t support it with my presence. This won’t shake the halls of the mighty at Stamford Bridge, the Principality Stadium, Wembley, Lords and the Oval. But it will allow me to look in the mirror without flinching.