In a recent CNN clip about the reopening of restaurants “post”-Covid, chef Yotam Ottolenghi is quoted to say that restaurants are about bringing people together. Sport is another way in which we bring people together, but like restaurants, the sport industry was also one of the worst affected by the pandemic. With the postponed Olympic Games kicking off this week, is bringing people together back on the agenda?
“With professional sports offering a point of community and connection for so many, resumption of play – however long it takes – will signal to fans and players alike that we’re on our way to beating the pandemic”, says a Delloitte report on Covid’s impact on the sports industry. If that’s true, the current tour of the British and Irish Lions as well as the games in Tokyo are more than good news for the sports industry (even if they don’t get the crowds back just yet) and for the rest of us too!
When the British and Irish Lions travel the Southern Hemisphere every four years, they usually have an enthusiastic entourage of red support that join them on the tour and test tickets are hot property. Their last bout in South Africa was in 2009 and the time is ripe for another episode of this epic event. But just as Covid turned extravagant weddings into family luncheons, the highly anticipated tour is taking place without the normal theatre of passionate spectators. “I think there is a hint of disappointment, of sadness, that we’re not going to have fans and we won’t see that sea of red that you associate Lions tours with”, says coach Warren Gatland. (Read more) The same is of course also true for fervent Bok supporters who applied for tickets long in advance and now have to settle watching from the couch, without a big gathering of friends, and I guess right about now, with limited refreshments too! At least, the tour is happening. If it was last year, like the scheduled Summer Olympics, there would not even have been a televised game.
Also a four-yearly event, the Summer Olympics can be considered the sport world’s most eagerly anticipated spectacle. After the success of the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019, I was excited about Tokyo hosting an impressive games. What a disappointment when it was postponed! But much more than my disappointment as a sport fan, can you imagine what it meant to athletes training with the games in mind, planning their peaks? And then there were Tokyo’s preparations!
Despite all the uncertainty and double efforts, the city is praised for being ready and was called “the best ever prepared city” by IOC president Thomas Bach. “You have done a fantastic job in preparing … This is even more remarkable under the difficult circumstances we all have to face.” But at what expense? While hosting nations often face debt after presenting a sport extravaganza, according to Statista.com, presenting the Games would have had a positive economic impact on Japan – even at the postponed dates. Estimations were for an impact of 20 trillion Japanese yen in Tokyo and about 32 trillion Japanese yen nationwide. Added to that are expectations for enduring social, economic, and cultural benefits. If the Games where to be canceled, organizers and the Japanese government stood to lose the 277 million U.S. dollars invested into the new stadium. (Read more) But with the games going ahead, despite the extra expenses for creating a safe environment, we hope that it will still be worthwhile for Japan.
Covid’s effect on industries that rely on bringing people together was tremendous – travel and tourism, hospitality and restaurants, sport and events. While the global sport scene might not easily recover from losses in all aspects of the game – from infrastructure to sponsorships, broadcasting to those selling boeries on a Saturday afternoon – there is hope. Hope in the fact that a team combined from three countries can travel to another hemisphere and complete a rugby tour and that we can tune in to watch the opening games of the Summer Olympics – even if it is a year late and without spectators in the stands. We might not be getting together like we want to or used to yet, but getting together we will – and I think, soon.