IN ALL FAIRNESS - New Year holds same challenges

The New Year was meant to provide fresh hope for everyone off the back of a difficult 2020 but a change of date in the calendar is what it merely was.

Any of the optimism that was there before Christmas with the advent of a vaccine for Covid-19 has been eroded by the explosion in transmission of the virus over the last two weeks. The news of the imminent vaccine in this country, along with the Christmas season, provided the perfect storm for the virus to take hold in the community as many people to let their guard down and the health system is now paying the price, and sadly some people will also pay with their lives, despite the vaccine being within injecting distance.

We all knew that 2021 wouldn’t be completely unimpacted by the virus, but we would have hoped to have some kind of normality early in the year, but it would appear it will be closer to St Patrick’s Day, almost twelve months on from when Ireland began to be largely impacted by Covid-19, that we will have restrictions eased, not even getting back to normal.

In terms of sport, big crowds at events are unlikely until at least the summer which is a major blow to the major organisations in this country, particularly Gaelic Games, Rugby, and Soccer, all of whom sustained massive financial hits last year, having little or no revenue from having bums on seats.

In terms of the GAA, they are as good as tied into a new split-season calendar with the inter-county championships starting in late April, with the All-Ireland Finals in July. At this stage, they’ll be doing well to have fans at all for the early championship games while 20,000 might be an optimistic figure for All-Ireland’s in Croke Park in July.

The new calendar should work in the favour of the club championships starting in late July and off the back of the successful competitions last year, it will be interesting to see how they work as they revert to taking place after the inter-county season is over and what shape the star players will be in for their clubs.

In rugby, it would appear than the Lions Tour to South Africa this summer is in grave peril and is likely to be postponed by twelve months. If so, it provides the Six Nations with an opportunity to delay its championship to the summer when they can get fans into the stadiums which they badly need.

For Ireland, the financial hit has been enormous and with key players such as Jonathan Sexton, Tadhg Furlong, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Keith Earls all out of contract this summer. While there will be an element of pay cuts here, the privately owned clubs in England and France aren’t as massively impacted and it may well be there could be a flight of some of our biggest stars abroad which will be detrimental to the provinces ability to compete at the highest level, just at the time when Munster in particular, appear to be getting back on track.

Locally, the ordinary club player just wants to play again. Nenagh Ormond have played just three matches since last March and it could be next March before they play again, while junior rugby could go eighteen months without action by the time they get underway again next autumn.

One of the biggest sporting events in the country this summer was set to be hosting four matches at the delayed Euro 2020 Football Championships. Even with the Republic of Ireland not involved, an influx of Polish, Swedish and Slovakian supporters into the country would have been a spectacle but much like the Lions Tour, it is hard to see fans being allowed to criss-cross Europe in June and July, the more likely option being the games will all be held in one country, however, what country would want to take that on considering most of Europe is a mess with Covid cases at the moment and vaccine roll-out for the general public is not likely to take place until the second quarter of the year.

The Olympic Games were also a casualty of 2020 and already there are concerns about whether it can go ahead this July. However, it is likely to proceed, although with limited attendances. Much like elite sport that has been proceeding throughout the pandemic, for all the athletes involved, particularly those in individual sports, their focus on Tokyo has never wavered, despite the twelve-month delay. And if there is one country that has the capability to get their house in order for the Olympics in six months, it is Japan.

Hopefully when we review the 2021 sporting year in twelve months’ time, Covid will be a distant memory.

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