In footy, there’s always the year after next


But the Open is next year, and it is not presuming that the world will automatically be cured by then. In the normal cycle, about three weeks after the Open, the pre-season footy series would begin. Four weeks after that comes the season proper, with all the bells and whistles.

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But does it? Can it? Let’s review what we know. The virus is still spreading, still mutating. Here on our island continent, we’ve managed to insulate ourselves fairly well from the ravages. We’re wrestling with the urge to break out of our confinement, for escape’s own sake, but also to give force to our need to believe that we’ve dodged a bullet.

But experts warned from the start that conquering coronavirus would be a years-long project. Even as the first wave washes up, a second and third remain real possibilities. We know already that there will continue to be flare-ups, and must take on trust that they can be contained. There’s one around the corner right now.

There won’t be a vaccine any time soon, and maybe not at all. No one therapy has yet been validated. Most that have been proposed have the imprimatur of Donald Trump and/or Clive Palmer, the gold standards of snake oil. Even the parole conditions announced on Monday had about them an element of toe-in-the-water. No, this is the long haul.

By next footy season, some travel restrictions still will apply. They might not directly affect this domestic game, but they will be symptomatic of a world that is still not quite right.

We’re presuming sports will be open to crowds again, but we don’t know. In the back of their minds, authorities are modelling socially distanced crowds but is that really a goer? It reads like an oxymoron. Even as restrictions begin to loosen now, the limit for a social gathering is still merely 500. The injunction against a mass of people in a contained space will be the last to be lifted.

If matches still are being played in empty or sparsely populated stadiums, will the game as a whole retain its gloss?

Even if sport is open to crowds, how open will crowds be to sport? How many footy fans will roll the COVIDice anyway? To date, as a community, we’ve been gratifyingly co-operative in observing social distancing. We’ve managed not to get in one another’s face, except for the IPA on social media. Does that mean we’ll come with a rush when stadium doors open again, or will some still hesitate?

Anecdotally, some have been surprised to discover that they can live without footy. Will they come back? Even if they all come – the those who can’t wait and those who can – will they be allowed to be side by side, sticking together? This may seem doom-laden, but some of our biggest sporting institutions are dwelling on it right now. In every sense, it’s their business.

If matches still are being played in empty or sparsely populated stadiums, will the game as a whole retain its gloss?

Some of the answers will become apparent as major sports creak back into action in the next couple of months. Fleeting experience of crowdless footy in March was uninspiring. It was recognisably our game, but in a soundless vacuum. You imagine that remote fans will readily watch their own teams, but will be less likely to tune in casually to a neutral match.

It’s exciting that we’ll soon be out of solitary, but it doesn’t mean we’ve tried the on-off button and it’s worked and that’s it. This footy season is going to be weird, the shape of the summer remains unknown and the new year not automatically a panacea. Next year’s footy is likely still to be a bit weird. But there’s always the year after next.

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