Alan Hubbard

Who would have thought that an incurable disease passed on by a bat to an exotic creature sold as an allegedly edible delicacy in a provincial Chinese market last November would, four months later, have brought not only the world of sport to a standstill, but virtually the world itself?

That strange and endangered mammal, the pangolin, is believed by some to be the source of coronavirus - now known as COVID-19 - which has raced unchecked around the globe and caused what the British Prime Minister has described as the worst crisis since World War II.

Both mainland Europe and the United States are in lockdown, their borders closed. All apparently because someone ate the infected meat of the pangolin, whose scaly skin is also used in Chinese medicine.

It seems hard to believe, but having lived and worked in the Far East for a few years I can vouch for the fact that certain members of the older Chinese generation will eat anything that moves - from dogs to dormice, tiger's testicles to snake soup - mainly because they believe it enhances virility. I was once invited to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Singapore where the dish of the day was a bullock’s penis, which you sliced off rather like a lamb shank. And very tasty it was too!

Sooner or later such a bizarre diet was bound to inflict more than an upset tummy.

This is not to make light of a terribly scary situation that is likely to change not only sport, but society, greatly affecting all of our lives. Here in Britain this pandemic has created panic the streets and caused pandemonium in the air. No one seems to know where it will all end.

Playing games behind closed doors didn't last long for European football ©Getty Images
Playing games behind closed doors didn't last long for European football ©Getty Images

“We are at war” declares the French President over the battle with this deadly virus. And there are certainly stark reminders of wartime, with wild talk of food rationing, curfews and the sight of shelves stripped bare of essentials like toilet paper, tissues, antiseptics, soap and hand gel, and long-lasting food items like pasta and tins of soup.

The latest edict from Boris Johnson, now playing catch up after playing down the threat of coronavirus when it began, like his buddy Donald Trump in the US, is that we old’uns, said to be most vulnerable, should self-isolate. That means stay indoors and preferably home alone for the next three months - maybe longer.

This may be okay for those who have hobbies which keep themselves occupied. But what about people like myself who don’t DIY, decorate, weed the garden or collect stamps? You can’t even go down to the betting shop. Anyway, what would you bet on?

Normally we might settle down with a cuppa or a glass of wine and watch some live sport on the box. But hang on, there won’t be any because it’s all been cancelled, suspended or postponed until further notice. And I do mean all sport. Football has been kicked into touch and cricket hit for six. No Grand National, varsity Boat Race, big fights, rugby, even darts. And probably the FA Cup final and, heaven preserve us, Wimbledon. Practically every game we watch or play will may no longer take place for months.

I suppose I could read a few novels, maybe try and write one. But more likely I will be just twiddling my thumbs - and washing my hands as instructed to do copiously while murmuring the national anthem or Happy Birthday to You twice to ensure they are properly clean.

So no more Match of the Day, and if last Saturday night is anything to go by they will be replaced by old comedy shows. You would think someone at the BBC would have the ingenuity to show highlights from previous great episodes - and there are many - or even a re-run of the 1966 World Cup final which a whole generation of young folk have never seen. It would be great to see what football was like before the video assistant referee.

International Olympic Committee staff are working from home in Switzerland ©Getty Images
International Olympic Committee staff are working from home in Switzerland ©Getty Images

There will not be much to read in the acres of pages in the sports sections, either. Some have already been curtailed and we wonder how the remaining sports pages will be filled, apart from endless speculation about whether the Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place this summer. Tokyo 2020 organisers and the Japanese Government insist they will but personally I wouldn’t bet on it, even if I could. 

For one thing, countries like Italy, France and possibly Britain and the US may forbid their athletes to travel should the situation worsen, as expected. Oddly enough, one of the only other times the modern Games have been cancelled was in 1940, because of the war. And which city was supposed to host them? Tokyo.

Like Euro 2020, Tokyo 2020 may now become Tokyo 2021. Who knows?

Here at insidethegames our daily bulletin now reports postponed or suspended events from ice hockey to skateboarding, sport climbing to sailing on a daily basis.

Even in Switzerland, probably the moist sanitised nation in the world, international sports conferences are being called off at the International Olympic Committee headquarters, where staff have been told to work from home.

Most of Europe's domestic football leagues - as well as the UEFA Champions League and Europa League - have been suspended following the escalating number of coronavirus cases.

Players and coaches have also been infected with the virus or been told to go into self-isolation, meaning leagues such as Serie A and La Liga have had to shut down.

Here stalwart sports events such as Wimbledon and the Open golf tournament are under threat. Anything which attracts a crowd.

Yet our Government has ignored the advice of its Chief Scientific Officer who opposed halting major sport, saying that, for instance you are more likely to catch the virus watching football on television in the closed atmosphere of a pub than in an open stadium because of the close proximity of others. Yes, if you sit next to someone who is infected inn a stadium with thousands of others, you might get it. But in a pub or club so might several others too.

The British Government has faced criticism for letting events such as the Cheltenham Festival go ahead last week with packed stands ©Getty Images
The British Government has faced criticism for letting events such as the Cheltenham Festival go ahead last week with packed stands ©Getty Images

Plans to hold some events behind closed doors seem to largely have been aborted probably because of the risk of infection to players. Several already have been,  and so too the Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta and the Olympiakos owner Evangelos Marinakis.

Essentially, the young and middle-aged, particularly those who are fit, will recover quickly but the danger is them passing it on to the elderly and those who have underlying health problems.

This critical situation poses massive problems for sport but it leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, if the Premier League is abandoned now should Liverpool, runaway leaders and 25 points ahead, be awarded a first title in 30 years? Baroness Karren Brady, vice-chairman of West Ham United, is one who believes it should be declared null and void. How handy for her club if it was as they are hovering just above the relegation zone.

The huge loss of revenue to and from sport undoubtedly will further damage the already savaged global economy.

And so it goes on. Or rather, off.

Nothing seems to be left unscathed by the virus. With no senior citizens around, even bowls, bingo and bridge clubs will be deserted.

It’s enough to drive us all, er, batty.