EVERYTHING comes with a health warning now.
Including this column.
The digital revolution might mean newspapers are now better placed to relay breaking news that was once the preserve of TV and radio but the dramatic speed with which the coronavirus crisis has escalated means new developments have barely gone up online before they are being overtaken by events.
The reality of where we are at with the spread of the virus is that the most uninformed commentator can now posit all kinds of worst-case scenarios in relation to its impact on sport and, given time — and not a whole lot, at that — he or she probably won’t be too far wide of the mark.
UEFA have convened a video conference crisis meeting of associations, leagues, clubs and player representatives for Tuesday, at which they say “discussions will include all domestic and European competitions, including Euro 2020.”
Again, you don’t need to be a fly on the wall of the inner sanctum in Nyon to predict that official confirmation of a postponement of the tournament is imminent and that those discussions will mainly concern the complicated mechanics involved in pushing it back a year, along with the related issues of how to manage the play-offs and the completion of this season’s club competitions.
All based on the assumption, of course, that at some uncertain point in hopefully the not too distant future, things will get better but only, it seems clear, after they’ve gotten worse.
It was in what now feels like the very distant past — December 2012 to be precise — that the then UEFA General Secretary, Gianni Infantino was exulting in the ambitious plan to mark 60 years of the European Championships by spreading the tournament in eight years’ time across 12 different countries (with Ireland, of course, later to claim one of the hosting rights).
“Instead of having a party in one country, we’ll have the biggest party ever organised across Europe in the summer of 2020,” he declared.
And, even as I write, it’s still all systems go according to the official event guide on the UEFA website, where a dated quote from President Aleksander Ceferin continues to be given prominence: “There is great pleasure in being able to bring EURO 2020 to so many countries and cities, to see football acting as a bridge between nations and to carry the competition closer to the fans who are the essential lifeblood of the game.”
No blame can be attached to the fact that those words now read like the blackest of black humour for who could have known, even as the year of the finals kicked off on January 1, that this pan-European event would run up against a pandemic?
After all, it was only the previous day, New Year’s Eve, 2019, that the very first reports of a cluster of pneumonia cases were reported in China and a week later that the cause was identified as a new form of coronavirus.
For most of us, I guess, the notion that it was still primarily a problem for other countries to deal with persisted even up to just a few weeks ago. Certainly, the first time I recall it coming up as a topic of conversation in the context of football was when there was a brief mention of the developing situation in Italy in the press box in Tallaght Stadium at the Shamrock Rovers-Dundalk game on February 28.
Then we quickly put all that out of our minds and got back to the much more serious business of trying to find the right words to do justice to Jordan Flores’ wonder goal, estimating the significance for the season ahead of the Hoops’ thrilling win over the champions and, as we absorbed the electric atmosphere generated by a heaving, near-capacity crowd, collectively channeling Van The Man: wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?
TALK about being careful what you wish for: by the time this week’s Champions League action was unfolding, I’m sure I wasn’t the only outside observer left equal parts baffled and dismayed by the fact that the UK authorities felt it was acceptable for Anfield to play host to a full house for Liverpool against Atletico while, at the very same time in Paris, PSG were hosting Borussia Dortmund in an empty Parc des Princes.
At home, we all know that football’s shut-down is going to pose severe challenges for the domestic game and for the FAI, especially if, as is widely expected, the prohibition will need to be extended beyond March 29.
But, in the context of what is now the most urgent priority world-wide, there is growing evidence that, though there are still varying rates of catch-up being played in the bid to halt the spread of Covid-19, almost all of football is finally arriving on the same page in realising that our individual and collective health must take precedence over every other consideration.
And while the proverb has it that all good things must come to an end, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that all bad things do too.
In the meantime, as Sergeant Esterhaus used to say on Hill Street: let’s be careful out there.