Silver lining amid gloom, as rugby returns


By The Line Judge

It has been an epoch-making weekend in the world of sport as Rafael Nadal and Lewis Hamilton took a step towards immortality, while New Zealand and Australia battled to a thrilling 16-16 draw in a gripping opening Bledisloe Cup Test in Wellington on Sunday (11) that saw the return of international rugby following the coronavirus shutdown.

Nadal demolished Novak Djokovic to win his 13th French Open and equal the all-time record of 20 Grand Slam titles held by Swiss great Roger Federer. This was after Polish teenager Iga Swiatek won her country’s first Grand Slam singles title on Saturday (10) to become the youngest women’s French Open champion since 1992.

Mercedes driver Hamiltone equalled Michael Schumacher’s record 91 career race victories at the Eifel Grand Prix. However, this was tempered by the news that football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and golfer Dustin Johnson tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

International sport has been the worst-hit since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic but at the same time professional sportsmen and women have displayed the resilience to bounce back following health guidelines to provide a silver lining amid the gloom. Football and cricket resumed albeit within closed doors but the return of rugby, which is considered a high-risk contact sport at international level, is a massive boost for the sport.

With New Zealand having largely contained the virus, a near-capacity 31,000 mask-free spectators were treated to an entertaining spectacle of rugby after a hiatus of seven months.

The most lucrative T20 league the IPL (Indian Premier League) is also being successfully conducted across the UAE in front of a limited live audience.

The point we are trying to make is that the show goes on amid a bio-secure bubble with or without spectators.

However, Sri Lanka, which also claimed to have contained the viral outbreak and were lulled into a false sense of complacency, have once again pressed the panic button after a spike in positive cases. Thankfully there is no lockdown that brought life to a complete standstill for about three months following the initial outbreak. Just when a semblance of normalcy was returning to the country with some competitions being held around the country, the latest setback has turned the clock back to aspiring sports stars, in particular the youth of the country.

Although the government took a policy decision to go ahead with the Grade 5 scholarship exam and the A/Ls, the Ministry of Education banned all inter-school sports competition being held this year. Daya Bandara, its Director for Sports and Physical Education, stated they will not take the risk of exposing schoolchildren to the latest outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have advised all school officials not to think of any sports related activities for the remainder of this year. With the present situation we will need to obtain strong recommendations and a firm green light from health authorities before thinking of holding school sports events. But it’s uncertain when the focus on school sports will be given priority with the present condition,” Bandara stated.

Not that school sports took place when the outbreak first started early this year in Sri Lanka. In fact, no school competitions began in any sport even after the lockdown although sporting activities at club level were gradually starting, before the new cluster was discovered.

Before the second COVID-19 wave broke out in Sri Lanka, the Ministries of Education and Sports held several rounds of discussions to resume sports activities at school level. Certain sports events were already taking place and authorities were in discussion to resume school cricket and rugby competitions with dates being already finalized.

The status quo will impact greatly on the final year A/L students who were keen to get school colours or become high achievers in the field of sport or getting bonus marks to those seeking entry to university. Also, professional coaches have lost their primary source of income. It has had an impact on the lives of those coaches as well as professional athletes. The predicament of these professionals is not something that has not been addressed by authorities concerned.

At a time when Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa wants to create an environment to churn out sports professionals and sports entrepreneurs and simulate the economy by laying the foundation for a billion-dollar sports industry, one wonders whether authorities are equipped to deal with this lost generation who are mentally and psychologically affected by the loss of not only revenue but their dreams and aspirations in the prime of their youth when the nation eventually comes out of this epidemic.

Having a blanket ban on events or postponing competitions is the not answer to the woes of athletes who cannot regain their youth after they are past their prime.

On the international front, Sri Lanka suffered a major blow when the Bangladesh cricket tour failed to come off because of disagreement over COVID-19 quarantine protocols. Now, England’s tour in December is also in jeopardy. Tom Harrison, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) Chief Executive, has suggested the strict COVID-19 measures in Sri Lanka would similarly reduce chances of England’s tour too. However, there is also a possibility that England will agree to undergo the mandated 14-day quarantine period “in isolation” in Dambulla before the start of the series.

As Sri Lanka Head Coach Mickey Arthur said earlier: “We need to get cricket back up and running, otherwise we may as well shut the whole thing down and wait for a vaccine.”


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