The unsurprising news of the cancellation of England’s tour to Sri Lanka as the the Covid 19 virus continues its spread across the globe is not even the latest to be afflicted by the desire to limit contagion, as event after event, fixture after fixture is cancelled.
I’m not a scientist, comment on the virus and public policy by those with no knowledge of what is the right thing to do has been a feature of social media over recent days; screaming from a position of scientific ignorance is something I wish to avoid.
But the impact on multiple industries is going to be exceptionally severe, and sport is far from an exception. The advice from the Chief Medical Officer that the peak level of infection is potentially 14 or more weeks away takes us into June, and thus from an English cricket perspective well into the summer. This means that at best the Test series against the West Indies must be in major doubt, alongside the early rounds of County Championship and the T20 Blast. Whether the cancellation of all such events over a lengthy period is sustainable is open to question, for few businesses can maintain shutdowns for any length of time, and whether the public will buy into an absence of much semblance of normal life is also a matter for debate.
The elective nature of the cancellations – as opposed to government compulsion – also means the question of whether insurance cover applies comes to the fore. Few are likely to have direct knowledge, and by the very nature of it no one is going to want to admit the position publicly, but there must be considerable doubt as to whether the ECB or their counterparts are protected. Such matters may be thought trifling in a public health crisis, but at some point things will return to normal, and the damage done to that normal life is important too.
It is clearly a big summer from the ECB’s perspective, the launch of the Hundred has been extraordinarily expensive, and while some might teasingly hope that cancellation of that unloved concept is a consequence, any curtailing or abandonment of it would provoke a major crisis in the finances of an organisation that is, like many others, already facing a highly uncertain future. It is at times like these that the diminution in the ECB’s financial reserves over the last few years begins to look like a risk that has backfired badly.
Furthermore, there must be issues for Sky Sports, who have lost almost all of their content. Subscriber cancellations seem the likeliest immediate impact of that, though what it means for the various sporting contracts must too be open to doubt. Given the multi-lateral problems for all parties, one thing that probably can be assumed is that few will be looking to take a hard line.
Of course, the optimistic view would be that the return of sport in the coming months might attract much greater interest than would otherwise have been the case, and there is some reason to hope that once through the worst of this, entertainment may well pick up rapidly from a relieved and probably bored population. The flip side of that is the financial hardship likely to be faced by many significantly reduces the disposable income for such things as sport.
If the central tenets of the ECB’s most lucrative activities face serious difficulties, it isn’t just the top level that will have questions to address in the coming months. The amateur game too will be hit by some not wishing to participate, whether or not that is a reasonable response. Clubs are always on a financial knife edge anyway, and it doesn’t take much to cause them serious difficulties, and with a governing body that even if inclined, would be financially unable to support them.
Supporters too are consistently overlooked. The cancellation of the Sri Lanka tour was announced by the ECB with no reference to those who had booked to follow the team. Worse than that, there was still no mention of those travelling in the email sent out to the England Cricket Supporter’s database. It is clearly not practical for the ECB to offer refunds of their travel, but supporters are highly unlikely to be able to claim on their travel insurance for a destination that remains open to visit. They are in an extremely difficult position, and it isn’t unreasonable to have expected the ECB to acknowledge that in their communication. To have ignored it entirely smacks of an organisation that doesn’t care in the slightest about anyone else, and doesn’t even pay lip service to pretending that they do.
What happens next no one knows. But it seems likely that Netflix, Amazon Prime and similar platforms are doing a decent trade in sign ups, as people either self-isolate or simply don’t have a huge amount else to go and do, or sport to watch. Sport is always the most important least important thing, and either way the consequences are going to be with us for some years to come.
One thing is for sure, it is far from only sport that is facing these questions, take it from me. For I work in travel and tourism, and I have had a shit of a month.