Football in the age of the Pandemic : #StayAtHome #Keepsafe

By Les Crang and Christoph Wagner

The first case of Covid 19 has recently been traced back to 17th November 2019, in the Chinese province of Wuhan (China’s first confirmed Covid-19 case traced back to November 17, 2020). Coronavirus or COVID-19 is the disease, whilst the virusis severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it, 2020).

By 12th March the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared COVID-19 a pandemic (WHO announces COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, 2020). In this article I look at the impact this pandemic could have upon football.

In many ways I agree with Marina Hyde of The Guardian that ‘Big Sport struggles to pivot to its new position of immense irrelevance’ (Hyde, 2020). In that in a time of pandemic, with thousands dying, sport is not ‘more than life and death’ as Bill Shankly once said.

Is this the moment we have been waiting for? The moment when the football bubble is about to burst? Maybe. It is in any case a significant test of the football infrastructure and by the looks of it, it will be severely tested; tested to the limits in some parts. Quite a significant proportion of the football community may well not withstand the impact.

As Covid 19 has moved from continent to continent, with reported worldwide deaths as of 23rd of March, 2020 standing at 15,000 (Russell, 2020), the impact on sport and football has already moved from the micro to the macro level of the business. On the micro level we have non league football cancelled, following league clubs cancelling games the week previously (McGrath, 2020). On the macro side, we have this year’s postponement of the Euros 2020 to 2021 (UEFA postpones EURO 2020 by 12 months | Inside UEFA, 2020) as well as a re-scheduling of the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

This has also impacted within the football community on a personal  level. For example, from the death to Covid 19 of the former Real Madrid chairman Lorenzo Sanz (Lowe, 2020), to the pain the Football Collectives’ member Dr. Joel Rookwood is presently suffering whilst self isolating with the illness:-

(Rookwood, 2020)

This virus  could  impact us on many levels, which I’ll expand upon. There has been talk about  finding a cure, but others have pointed out this could take up to a decade  (Kupferschmidt, and Cohen, 2020) and at present only preventative measures are available  (Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – Prevention & Treatment, 2020). With this in mind we have to be aware of how the disease can be spread and what  the preventative measures are to consider its possible impact on the game The first point is:-

The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales … The main way the disease spreads is through respiratory droplets expelled by someone who is coughing. (ibid, 2020)

(Yu, 2020)

The preventative measures have called for people to ‘socially’ distance themselves by 2 metres, not touch their faces and regularly wash their hands. Within a football stadium this would change how football is watched. Safety of the clientele would need to be guaranteed but in using these preventative measures, crowds would be reduced and how fans interact would change entirely. You could not ‘touch’ the person next to you.The tradition of hugging after a goal would become a thing of the past.

Historically, shaking hands has been a sign that the person stretching out the hand is unarmed, it is a symbol of peace. In Friedrich Schiller’s play „The Virgin of Orleans“ Talbot offers his hand as a sign of reproach after his tongue caused harm (Schiller and Setzer, 1980).

Quote: Talbot: Let this handshake heal the wound that hastily struck my tongue

For centuries shaking hands has been a cultural practice that is deeply ingrained in our daily routine: it is used as a salutation, to confirm treaties and contracts. The danger that a virus could be spread via this practice has largely been ignored. Fast forward to 2020: our common daily routines have come under scrutiny and may even have to be abolished in order to avoid the propagation of Corona-Virus. Shaking hands has been part of what Norbert Elias has called the civilisation process during which humans have come to control their emotions and become more restrained – and a symbolic part of football.

Our representation of celebration beyond the pitch and beyond will also possibly need changing. Will we need to have individual changing rooms or increased space for people to sit together? Will players, staff and match attendees be tested before entering the stadium? Will the after match interview be via Zoom or video conferencing software? The images of what football was yesterday could be very different tomorrow.

Covid 19 may also  impact negatively on mental health. For example:-

Anxiety disorders impact children and adults and may be manifested by excessive fear and avoidance. (Rosso, 2020) Whilst another report has said:-

Depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder, developed in high-risk persons, especially survivors and frontline healthcare workers. (Dong and Bouey, 2020)

These disorders will take time for people to recover from. Some supporters of football might therefore avoid going outdoors and / or larger crowds which could include attending football matches.

One should also be aware that Covid 19 has a prevalence to increase mortality rates if you are older (Age, Sex, Existing Conditions of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths, 2020) and have preexisting illnesses including hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease (WHO Director-General’s statement on the advice of the IHR Emergency Committee on Novel Coronavirus, 2020) so attending matches may be risky. With an aging group presently attending football matches due to a better earning potential etc (Football clubs facing “demographic time-bomb” | Football Supporters’ Federation, 2016), clubs may well lose a profitable revenue stream.

This also affects managers of a certain age. Many managers are of an age where they are at risk. Crystal Palace’s manager, Roy Hodgson is 73 at present, Leeds United Marco Bielssa is 65. Managers may retire if these viruses continue.

In conclusion, there may be many impacts on the way the game is played and viewed, and  on its rituals. The wider impact of which is at present unknown.  There are of course many other factors and much of this is supposition at this point. If our great minds of the world feel we can be in Church by Easter, who am I to argue?

 I do do feel thatthat football will have to change. But change could be a good thing. Younger members and audiences perchance? Less money for football and more for our health service?.  Some things to ponder on at least while we’re sat on our sofas at home.

This article was written by Les Crang and Dr.Christoph Wagner, early members of the football collective, who had discussed how football was going to be impacted. Les is based in London and works at the University of London library, whilst Christoph is based in Paris. His Phd looked at English media representations of the German football team from 1954-2004. This is an ongoing collaboration that should provide a 2nd part to this article very soon.


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