SPORT may be televised in HD but those who play it tend to be viewed in two-dimensional terms.
Athletes are too often treated as abstract constructs that cease to exist as soon as they disappear down the tunnel. It’s a disconnect that allows us to roar abuse at them from the stand or justify any bad tackle or other faux pas depending on mood and loyalty.
Athletes themselves can struggle to escape this prism in the same way.
With the conversation around mental health opening up in recent times, we have been exposed to the inner workings of many a sportsperson’s mind and the perils that come with investing too much of one’s identity into sport.
The current pandemic and its impact on sport only emphasises that. The discourse has centred almost exclusively on the effects this will all have on tournaments and clubs, on the ability of players and athletes to train and, when the time is right, perform again.
But these are people like any other whose whole lives have been turned upside down.
David Kenny is no different in that respect.
It’s not just the Farranfore man’s dreams of representing Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics that have been put on hold. Kenny pared back his mechanical engineering studies in CIT this year to a part-time basis to accommodate his race walking ambitions.
It’s the type of step that dozens of Irish athletes have taken before him in the bid to maximise their sporting potential. Now he is facing uncertainty on two fronts, with the athletics calendar postponed and college life diverted online.
“We’ll see what happens in terms of exams and stuff,” he said. What can he do but sit and wait?
The coronavirus has yet to infect the vast majority of people here but the strain of change that comes with it invades all corners. Kenny has a sister working as a dietician in St James’ Hospital in Dublin. Another is due to sit her Leaving Cert.
Both will be effected in very different ways.
Now 21, and without any funding from Sport Ireland, Kenny himself has been working part-time in a supermarket in Killarney since he was 16, but what was a two-day a week gig has morphed into a daily shift lately with the escalation in footfall through the aisles.
“It’s been busier than Christmas every day,” he said.
Amid all this is an unflinching determination to keep on keeping on.
Though living at home in Kerry since the start of the year, he has been splitting his time between there and Cork where he is part of a walking group headed by Rob Heffernan and that includes Brendan Boyce and, of late, the South African Wayne Snyman.
The plan was to make for Spain and a one-month training camp soon with a view to peaking in time for the World Race Walking Team Championships in Belarus in early May. That’s all gone by the wayside like everything else.
Race walkers and runners are less constricted than most by the new realities of social spacing and it may be that they continue to aim towards that early May mark and simulate, as best they can, a race scenario among themselves.
Kenny was in superb form when the calendar was wiped.
It’s less than a week since he won the Irish Life Health National 20km title and shredded three minutes off his PB in the process. It was the fourth fastest time ever by an Irishman and it prompted Heffernan to say the younger man had one foot in the Olympics.
“Last Sunday was my breakthrough,” Kenny explained. “I went up in the rankings and from that I could qualify for Tokyo so, just in those terms, it is an anti-climax. So for Rob to have a plan in place keeps me focused and that’s brilliant.”
Kenny and thousands of athletes like him across the world are having to work in a vacuum that is being filled by contrasting messages from politicians on the ground in Japan itself and IOC officials who are grappling with the problem and, it seems, squabbling among themselves.
What is clear is that the dissenting voices within both those camps are increasing and that a delay of some stripe is all but inevitable.
Taro Aso, Japanese foreign minister, has described the 2020 Games as “cursed” and made a connection with the 1940 Games, which were due to be held in Tokyo but cancelled due to the Second World War, and the 1980 version in Moscow, which was compromised by a western boycott.
“We certainly hope to have a situation where everyone can at least come to Japan feeling safe and happy.” Aso said this week.
“But the question is how we do that. It is something that Japan alone cannot achieve, and I don’t have an answer to this.”
Matthew Pinsent, the four-time Olympic rowing champion and a former IOC member, took to Twitter to call for the Games to be called off. Current IOC member and gold medallist in hockey Hayley Wickenheiser has taken a similar line.
“I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity,” said the Canadian.
The pageantry of the Games has already been diluted by the pandemic and its effects.
The torch relay in Greece was stopped, after just two days, earlier this week because of the large crowds it attracted and the flame handed over to the Tokyo caretakers in a stripped-down ceremony in Athens yesterday.
Held at the famous 80,000-seater stadium that played host to the first modern Games in 1896, the only attendees were a handful of officials and other participants. Even the Japanese delegation couldn’t make it because of travel restrictions.
The 2020 organising committee president, Yoshiro Mori, delivered a speech by video. “Tokyo 2020 commits to be in readiness for the games as planned,” said Mori.
“I hereby pledge that on July 24 this flame will be lit at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.”
The diluted build-up will continue today when the flame arrives in Japan, arriving at the Matsushima air base in the north of the country where just a few dignitaries and, weather permitting, a flyover, will mark what should have been an auspicious occasion.
Officials have asked roadside spectators to keep their distance from others as it snakes its way south towards the capital. There are plans in place to ape the Greek response by calling the relay to a halt if social spacing cannot be maintained.
A change of date appears to be a matter of when rather than if.