In hindsight, social distancing, the expression that has gained wide currency in the wake of the pandemic scare, may have been a bit off the mark in describing one of the important preventive measures against COVID-19. What health experts have actually been insisting on is physical distancing, avoidance of close contact among people. Social distancing could mean something else. If it is primarily about keeping off activities that define us as social beings, then we need to think better. Inadvertently it could be making our task much tougher.
Physical distancing is much more comprehensible and actionable, because it comes with certain clarity. It does not make participation in social events a strict no, no; it suggests that with limits in place, normal social interaction can take place. We only need to develop new social etiquettes, which will become habits over time. The new etiquettes will involve masks, gloves and sanitisers. They will disapprove of sharing of plates, spoons and tumblers and discourage loud conversation, uninhibited sneezing and careless coughing.
In fact, many of these should have been counted as reprehensible conduct much earlier and invited social shaming. A sneezing, coughing or saliva-spewing person hardly makes anyone comfortable in any gathering. But others tolerate him for the fear of being called rude if they reacted strongly. Now, with so much of talk on distancing, it is expected that unwell persons would beg off from events or they would be firmly asked to leave. The COVID-19 crisis offers us a good opportunity to polish and upgrade our sense of social decency.
The more evolved a society, the more hygiene-conscious it is. The observance of the culture of personal and public hygiene reflects one’s sensitivity to people around. The Japanese are known to be obsessed with cleanliness. Not wearing a mask when unwell is treated as rude conduct there. Citizens imbibe the culture early on as children in schools are taught to keep their surroundings spick and span. Perhaps it has to with Shinto religion or Buddhism, both of which put great emphasis on purity, both physical and spiritual, yet it reflects a superior concern for fellow beings. After the COVID experience, we need to learn new manners and new ways of showing concern for others. Physical distancing, of course, will play a crucial role.
Since we are making the point that physical distancing need not mean farewell to social events, can we re-imagine big events on our calendar? Let’s try.
IPL WITHOUT AUDIENCE?
Why not? The marquee event on the world’s cricketing fixture won’t be the same sans the infectious energy of hypercharged fans. The decibels, the colours and the madness certainly make the Indian Premier League the marvellous experience that it is. However, given the extraordinary situation that confronts us, a good option out is to allow the show to go on with empty stands.
IPL is primarily a television event. While the in-stadia atmospherics is important, gate receipts account for barely 10-15 per cent of a franchisee’s revenue. Merchandising during matches earn far less. The real audience, in terms of size, is at homes, in front of television sets. The number is staggering: 460 million people watched the event on television and digital platforms last year. No doubt, this audience is what sponsors and advertisers have on mind when they spend millions of rupees.
It is expected to grow exponentially considering the COVID scare would force people to stay at home. Convert that into revenue, it can only be massive. It would be more than compensating for the loss of gate money. Moreover, innovative as they are, trust the advertisers to up the visibility game and turn empty stadiums into a money-spinning opportunity.
Interestingly, neither the franchisees nor the government appear averse to the idea. The former, however, want their international stars. This could be worked out. From the government’s perspective, there can be no better way to keeping people off the streets.
THE IMRAN TAHIR MODEL
Imran Tahir can run a mile or more to celebrate a wicket. In fact, the South African tweaker could be an example for others in these changed times. Tired after all the running, bowlers would have little energy to do high-five and hugging, the usual way they celebrate a wicket. Imran’s is not a bad way to maintain physical distancing at all.
Cricket in time of physical distancing would have several no-nos built-in. The bowlers would have to dump the habit of using saliva to polish the cricket ball. In one-dayers, two new balls are involved in each inning, so saliva is not much of a problem here. In 20-20 games, where one ball is used facemask for the bowler can be an option. It’s doubtful whether they would love it though. Of course, spitting on the field has to go. All players have to take care of their own drinking water and whatever additional equipment they need. That would make the 12th man jobless, but that should be fine with all.
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Victory celebrations would look comical with each member of the team going crazy on his own, maintaining a safe distance from others. Yet it would be tolerable given at least we had a match. The scene we present is a bit exaggerated. But the point is, cricket can shed some of its old habits and go on.
SPORTS TO BREAK LOCKDOWN INERTIA
The consensus across the thinking population at this point is that the wait cannot go on forever. We need to revert to normal life fast without exposing ourselves to too much risk. Resumption of sporting activities can help us get the much-needed relief from the forced inertia of the present. So whatever goes for cricket applies to all non-contact sports. With a bit of precaution most games and athletic events can take place, without the usual gathering of course.
All sport that involves a racquet, bat or club such as badminton, lawn tennis, table tennis, squash, golf etc should be given a chance. Games including football, basketball, kabaddi, wrestling and boxing among others can wait a bit, but that need not be the case with several athletic disciplines. Are the minders of Indian sport game?