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The Silencing of Sport

Across the world, stadia are quiet. Where once they were full of noise, emotion, and packed with people, they now sit dormant, like an old volcano, standing tall over an ancient island. And like a dormant volcano, the potential is for the quiet to preside over the grounds for a while to come.

Citizens across the world are rarely united, but they currently are in support and anticipation, of a COVID-19 vaccination. Whilst the people hope, a return to the old-days in wholesale measure is impossible. Even once lock downs across the globe are relaxed, social distancing measures will remain in place. One of the last places to be “unlocked” will be stadiums.

Arenas where thousands of voices once sung in harmony will be silent except to the sound of the participants. The Kop will not belt out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, Twickenham will experience matches without the refrain of ‘Swing Low’, and the hymn of ‘Jerusalem’ will not be heard across cricket grounds in England.

These are necessary measures; with that I cannot disagree. Whilst the science is constantly progressing in terms of a vaccine, treatment, and our understanding of the virus, it has been repeatedly made clear that the major breakthrough required will not come any time soon.

The process of how to resume is underway in many of the major sporting leagues across the world: a combination of isolating players in hotels, perhaps even playing many matches at the same stadium with a rigorous testing regime – all to ensure the potential risk of transmission is as small as possible.

I am in no doubt that sport will return as soon as they are allowed. The financial implications of it didn’t are too dire to imagine – it would not only be the smaller sides across both semi-professional and professional sport going bankrupt, but those with previous significant wealth too.

At least the modern era of sports broadcasting and streaming technology means that these games will be accessible. One suspects every game will be available through some service, whether that be through the traditional channels of Sky, BT, and the Free-to-Air channels, as well as the relatively new iFollow (for the EFL), YouTube, and perhaps even new platforms.

Yet a strange sense of abnormality will linger around sports, even when on-pitch normalities resume. A key part of this will be driven by the silence. Aside from the players talk, and the coach’s instructions, there will be nothing. Whether it is a goal, a try, a wicket: all will be met with the applause of a small bench of players, coaches and physios, not the roar of a crowd.

There has already been some talk of mitigating this: Brighton have spoken about using the stadiums speakers to artificially provide at least some form of atmosphere, and in Denmark, FC Midtjylland is looking to have a drive-in. Fans will be able to view the games on big screens in the club carpark, tuning their radio to get TV commentary. The noise that generates when a goal is scored may be different, and quieter, but it will still be something.

These measures will ultimately be insignificant in comparison to what we have seen before. The noise may be clearly fake, and from those in cars too quiet to make a difference. Even when crowds do return, social distancing will be in place, with restrictions on attendances and where people can sit likely to be enforced.

One of the most curious parts of the silencing will be how it impacts the fans upon their return, in many different facets. We may see a fundamental change in *who* people support, with local, smaller sides being the main beneficiary. Or the reverse may be true – a lack of engagement with local clubs due to the methods of viewing may see an even bigger spike in those who support “the big clubs”. People may flood back into the grounds at their first opportunity, or they may be wary of the risk of transmission.

What we can say for certain is that the impact of COVID-19 on all sport will be deeply significant. From the basics of how we watch the sport to how we engage and how clubs adapt their revenue streams to survive – and how some won’t – the legacy of the Coronavirus will be present for years after.

Concourse is Keele University’s independent student-run publication and has a long history of promoting student journalism. Having been established in 1964, Concourse has become an important part of the university and has been read by generations of Keelites.

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