So that was the year when things didn’t happen. The Olympics? Sorry, not now. Wimbledon? C’mon, look around you. World T20? Time and place, folks, time and place.
What has Covid done to sport? Has it made us realise how unimportant it is, or the reverse? Do we now understand how vital it is, how closely linked to our sanity and balance? Do you remember who the Wimbledon champion in 2015 was? Maybe not. But we do appreciate how necessary that tournament was at that time of the year in that place at that venue. It was a sign of normality.
And that’s what sport is — an assurance of normality. It is a meaningless exercise that is the most significant thing we can do. Or watch. Or comment on. Or argue over. Events have to take place in a predetermined order, giving all of us a chance to both cheer and complain. That is what we were largely deprived of.
We can trust sport. We might look suspiciously at economic figures or the Covid statistics. It may be that one of them is exaggerated while the other is understated. But when Ajinkya Rahane makes 112 in a Test match, we know that is a fact. Not one run more, not one fewer. If Lionel Messi goes scoreless in a match, his public relations team does not tell us that he scored a hat-trick. Sport is the statistical comfort of our times.
Watching great gymnasts or swimmers or athletes perform at the peak of their powers is a reminder of what we are capable of. Not each of us individually, but humanity as a whole. About seven billion and a bit of us have no hope of dribbling past defenders and scoring goals or running the 100 metres in nine-and-a-half seconds. But Maradona could do the former and Usain Bolt the latter. We are confident they represent us, the unfit, the unconcerned, the no-hopers. And that is deeply satisfying.
It inspires a bunch of us to run or compete on the sports field; an equal lot can sit back contended that we don’t have to put in all those years of training and sacrifices. It is enough that we can enjoy the efforts of those who actually do these things.
Will sport ever be the same again? Will we absorb it differently? Have we missed it so much that we count the minutes till we can go back to it full time? Or do we worry that we might not because we have got along without it for much of this year?
Football is not a matter of life and death, said former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, “it is more important.”
Covid has scooped out both the essence and the humour in that. Nothing is more important than life. Nothing more than death.
But sport is important — both to enhance life and to get over death. That’s why we look forward to sport in 2021. It is a sign of life.