Around the world, measures are being put in place to prevent further spreading of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and inevitably that has led to calls for major public gatherings and sporting events to be postponed or cancelled entirely. For fans and the general public at large, this is a source of great concern and anxiety. Many will have booked travel, accommodation and taken time off work to attend these events and the uncertainty they are experiencing is almost as bad as the reality of cancellation.
Behind every one of these events, there is an astronomical amount of planning and preparation involved. With the news that Italy has now banned all public gatherings including sporting events, it is likely that other countries will now be looking at whether a similar approach is also necessary.
The unique thing about the reactions and responses is that they are not confined to any particular country or continent – they are global. It is also not discriminatory towards any particular sport, each and every one is affected in its own way.
In rugby, Ireland vs Italy in the Six Nations was cancelled for fear that fans travelling could lead to an increase in the number of cases in the UK. Arguably the biggest sporting event of 2020, the Tokyo Olympics, is set to get underway in July and with worst-case scenario plans including holding the games without spectators (a step now being taken by the Spanish football authorities). Meanwhile, in the United States, the governing bodies of all major American sports, the MLB, MLS, NFL and NHL, have taken the unprecedented step of limiting access to locker rooms to players and key members of the coaching team. Each of these responses brings the potential magnitude of the situation into sharp focus.
However, with the UK remaining in the containment phase of its response, fears over cancelled sporting events have been more subdued than elsewhere. The noises coming from government are more positive than many expected and with the Culture Secretary stating on Monday that sporting events in Britain are unlikely to be cancelled, organisers and fans alike will be breathing a slight sigh of relief.
In situations like these, leadership is everything. A rational, proportionate and evidence based response will ensure that the public are kept well informed. With the situation evolving rapidly and changing by the hour, that approach will make all the difference when examining all of the possible next steps.