Coronavirus: Panic could decimate the 2019-20 football season

AS IT stands, the Coronavirus may just prove to be disruptive for a short time. Once the world realises this is not “Survivors 1975” things should calm down, but with financial markets doing their customary knee-jerk reaction to crisis, and some institutions capitalising on their derivatives to make money out of a downturn, the angst could run on for months. It may actually suit some people.

It would seem only logical, in the circumstances, that all major football could be suspended until the neurosis goes away. A vast crowd, with respiratory systems co-mingling – have you ever watched how much saliva gets expelled when a goal is scored? – would seem the best way to spread disease. And with weekend travel so easy these days, or rather affordable, the opening scenes of the aforementioned TV programme start to become a reality.

Pragmatists will point to the statistics and the fact that common or garden influenza is far more deadly than this latest bug from the east. Sceptics might claim that large numbers of people in places like China used to die every year, but because it was “over there” and international travel was more restrictive, we didn’t pay too much attention. But now China is a major financial and political power and we rely on the country for cut-price goods, including electronics, clothing, food and even notebooks. In other words, China’s health problems become more than just a news item. The way things are progressing, the image of 2020 will be the surgical mask, and that doesn’t mean the Millwall F-troop or “Halfway Line” of the 1970s are back in business.

The fact is, if the disease gathers momentum, no official body will have to prevent people attending football matches, they will naturally curtail their habit to limit their exposure to infection. For football clubs, suspension of the season will be a costly exercise and could tip some smaller clubs into closure. Cash flow is invariably under pressure at the lower end of the Football League (in any country). Football is an industry and any industry that stops rolling due to an unprovisioned incident or crisis can run into big trouble. We have already seen financial markets “lose” billions from stock market downturns, events that are invariably driven by loss of confidence and panic-stricken traders who want to balance their books. Animal and survival spirits come to the fore when money starts to disappear.

The Coronavirus could well be another nail in the coffin for globalisation, and there’s no more “global” business than modern football. Politicans like Trump will, no doubt, ensure “blame” is pushed onto China as a way to disarming the country’s financial clout and bargaining power. Those that have embraced protectionism will relish the chance to further distance themselves from foreigners and foreign ways. Even in the early days of the virus, Chinese folk in London were subject to finger-pointing and prejudice, from the student on a London bus with the only vacant seat next to him within a passenger-initiated exclusion zone, to attacks on young people blaming them for the virus. This all goes hand-in-hand (washed with soap and water, of course) with the mood that has prevailed since 2016 in Britain.

Given that public reaction to any major event is amplified out of all proportion by technology, social media and behavioural trends, this could go on far longer than it might have done in the past. So there is a real chance that football could be severely disrupted by a virus for which there is currently no solution. Yet. If that happens, we may not see the end of the European 2019-20 campaign, we may not enjoy the first pan-European Euros and the Olympics may not take place as arranged. Tokyo is, after all, uncomfortably close to the eye of the storm. Japan’s intensely hygenic society may enable them to prevent a full-blow crisis, but the biggest problem with any emerging disease is the unknown. Until we know, we can only hope.


Photo: PA


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