Sport’s welcome return can provide an uplift for us all

Seventy-five days of no live sport. Think about that. Seventy-five days.

No Norwich v Watford on a Monday night. No Saints v Wakefield on a Thursday.

No Australian Grand Prix to watch the first corner of. No French Open. No Masters to take us away from it all. No snooker at the Crucible.

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The coronavirus pandemic has taken countless victims over the last few months, each of them a tragedy in their own right, and while the loss of sport comes nowhere close to the magnitude of the loss of life, its absence has still been felt.

Handout photo dated 17/03/20 provided by Wetherby Racecourse of Glencassley and Aidan Coleman lead the field past an empty stand during The Family Fun Raceday during today's meet at Wetherby Racecourse, which is being held behind closed doors. PA Photo. Issue date: Tuesday March 17, 2020. Photo credit should read: Alan Wright/Wetherby Racecourse/PA Wire. NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.Handout photo dated 17/03/20 provided by Wetherby Racecourse of Glencassley and Aidan Coleman lead the field past an empty stand during The Family Fun Raceday during today's meet at Wetherby Racecourse, which is being held behind closed doors. PA Photo. Issue date: Tuesday March 17, 2020. Photo credit should read: Alan Wright/Wetherby Racecourse/PA Wire. NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Handout photo dated 17/03/20 provided by Wetherby Racecourse of Glencassley and Aidan Coleman lead the field past an empty stand during The Family Fun Raceday during today's meet at Wetherby Racecourse, which is being held behind closed doors. PA Photo. Issue date: Tuesday March 17, 2020. Photo credit should read: Alan Wright/Wetherby Racecourse/PA Wire. NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder. | PA Wire

Sport has the power to unite and lift the soul. Its tribalism defines identities and communities. Its rituals dominate our weekends and our evenings.

Since Tuesday, March 17, when horse racing was the last live sport in Britain to shutdown due to Covid-19, sport has vanished, taking with it all those opportunties to cheer and rejoice, to vent and debate. Over the last two and a half months, one could argue, we have needed that form of escape more than we ever had. But sport knew its place and retreated into the shadows.

Now, as Britain begins to emerge from lockdown, sport is at the forefront of the movement back towards something like the normal we once took for granted.

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“The British sporting recovery has begun,” proclaimed Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, on Saturday evening.

David Grace in action against Kyren Wilson on day two of the Betfred Snooker World Championships at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.
Picture date: Sunday April 16, 2017. See PA story SNOOKER World. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA WireDavid Grace in action against Kyren Wilson on day two of the Betfred Snooker World Championships at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.
Picture date: Sunday April 16, 2017. See PA story SNOOKER World. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
David Grace in action against Kyren Wilson on day two of the Betfred Snooker World Championships at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday April 16, 2017. See PA story SNOOKER World. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire | PA Wire

It does so today, with a race meeting at Newcastle and a snooker tournament in Milton Keynes. That the race meeting was oversubscribed by three times the permitted horses, and the snooker event has a full field of 64 players, underlines that the determination for sport to return was not just felt among the governing bodies. Sport is a huge multi-million pound industry that provides livelihoods far beyond the men and women who compete. The fact the billionaires playground of the Premier League is one of the first major sports to return – doing so when Aston Villa welcome Sheffield United on Wednesday, June 17 – merely emphasises that point.

Today’s opening is a tentative one. Each sport, each club, each individual, is venturing into something of an unknown, so baby steps are required.

Health and safety has to be of paramount importance for everyone concerned, so sport returns behind closed doors, meaning all games and meetings will be met with an eerie silence in the stands.

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“It is up to each individual sport to decide exactly when to resume competition,” continued Dowden.

“They know their sports best. But football, tennis, horse racing, Formula 1, cricket, golf, rugby, snooker and others are all set to return to our screens shortly.”

Golf’s European Tour announced last week that play will return on Wednesday, July 22, with the British Masters at Close House in Newcastle.

The Formula 1 season resumes in Austria in early July, while closer to home the behind-closed-doors action begins to click into gear next Monday, with a golf tournament on the 2020protour at Cleckheaton – as reported on page 2 – and the first race meeting at one of Yorkshire’s nine courses to be staged at Pontefract on Wednesday, June 10.

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The last racing in the UK was held at Wetherby on Tuesday, March 17, when there was an air of inevitibility about the impending shutdown.

The last competitive professional sport was a round of fixtures in rugby league’s Challenge Cup two days prior.

I covered one of those games, joining a little over 300 people at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium to watch Sheffield Eagles defeat Workington. The suspicion then was that it would be the last sport for a while. And it was.

There is a lot going on in the world right now. Sport is not that important.

But it is good to have it back, and we certainly won’t take it for granted any more.

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