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Chris Lakey: When the great escape route is taken away... and what the hell are the IOC doing?

PUBLISHED: 12:09 22 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:09 22 March 2020

A view of locked gates at Old Trafford Picture: PA

A view of locked gates at Old Trafford Picture: PA

PA Wire

I’ve seen some strange things and experienced some weird moments, during my decades as a sports journalist.

I laughed (I know, I shouldn’t have) when I saw a supporter in South Korea fall off a wall on to a running track as he cheered his team on rather too vociferously (he walked away unhurt and smiling).

I’ve seen 45,000 race fans throwing their betting tickets into the air in disgust, forming a ticker-tape skyline at a floodlit Happy Valley complete with trams chugging by in the background.

I’ve seen the highs of winning putts, winning tries, winning goals and I’ve seen the lows of the ones that got away, the near misses, the horrendous mistakes.

I’ve knocked off work and walked home through streets buzzing with title-winning celebrations, I’ve enjoyed the simple satisfaction of putting another sports paper to bed.

I’ve been lucky.

I’ve seen loads of things I can’t even mention, just in case they get me into trouble!

But never, ever, have I driven home with an increasing feeling of desolation, isolation, and sheer bloody ignorance of what on earth was happening to my little old world ... as I have this week as the effects of the coronavirus swept through the world.

The implications of all that happened in the past seven or eight days has hit me in the face like one of Tyson Fury’s finest. Empty streets, clear roads, floodlights off, joggers indoors. And when you know why and you think about it, it all becomes bigger and more worrying. The night becomes gloomier, the skies darker. Can this really be happening?

Sport is perhaps a little part of the world, but it is such a part of so many lives that it is only in times like this when we truly realise how important it is to so many people. No, it isn’t a matter of life and death. That is ridiculous. But it is a matter of life.

My professional input is perhaps inconsequential. But sport is an escape for so many, our way of coping with the pressures of day-to-day life. For those who work within and without, it is all a blessed relief when sport happens.

And now it won’t, for a long time.

Where is the release valve? What happens to the pent-up frustrations, the pressures, the responsibilities, the anger and anxiety of a working week which manifest themselves in so many different ways, thanks to sport. Some release it with a passion, others with a brutal violence, others with a snide tongue with no shame or regret.

Without sport, there is a major hole in our lives.

I feel for those who enjoy sport, but I fear more for the men and women whose livelihood depends on it. Not just the participants, but the support staff. The ones we don’t see jumping up and down on the Wembley turf, or interviewed on TV, or with their name printed on the back of a replica shirt.

The nice lady who serves the food in the Norwich media room. The steward who always, but always, has a word for you. The programme seller. Steve, the groundsman at King’s Lynn Town. Or the people behind the bar in the local pub who rely on matchday income to live. They are the tip of the iceberg. National League club Barnet are laying off around 60 employees.

This will effect football way, way down the pyramid to the extent that the game may never properly recover, let alone reappear in anything like its current form once we get through to the other side.

Football, in that respect, is perhaps hardest hit given it runs the deepest.

There will, inevitably, be calls for the sport’s rich to look to their philanthropic side and help out those in need. An understandable suggestion in such times, but isn’t that a bit like Norwich asking Liverpool for some points to prevent them going down? Clubs are businesses within a business – football’s authorities should be responsible for protecting the impecunious.

As some of you will know, I have a passion for watching King’s Lynn Town. It’s been a terrific season, way beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and while the team have stuttered a little of late, they are still effectively in the driving seat at the top end of the National League North table – two points behind the leaders with two games in hand.

But were the authorities to end it all now, tally up the points per game and promote Lynn, it would be hugely unfair: who is to say they would bring their blip to an end and that York wouldn’t win every game?

What we are currently witnessing is the tip of the iceberg.

I hate to be the purveyor of doom, but worse is to come. And answers will be harder to come by.

And I fear life for so many will never be the same again.

Please, stay well.

Fool’s gold

For some time now I’ve thought the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to be out of touch with reality.

But now they are on the top step of the rostrum, about to claim a gold medal after a world record performance in the complete ignorance/out of touch reality discipline.

The IOC are rigid in their belief that the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled for July 25 and August 9 and the Paralympics, from August 26 to September 6, will go ahead.

The ignorance of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic is stunning. Absolutely stunning.

On Thursday, Tokyo 2020 organisers received the Olympic flame at Athens’ Panathenaic stadium, site of the first modern Games in Greece in 1896. It was then packed into a holder to travel to Japan.

Whilst world sport all but shuts down, and athletes are told to change training schedules to avoid social contact, Thomas Bach, the IOC president, is happy to assume that all will be well come July.

“I will not speculate, but we owe it to all the athletes, and we owe it to all the half of the world that watches the Olympics to say we are not putting the cancellation of the Games on the agenda,” he said.

Athletes have prepared meticulously for specific dates, and now cannot train properly.

How can they be ready? How could they even be ready for a postponed Olympics.

There was an interesting statement from the British Olympic Association (BOA) this week which, to me, didn’t seem to be fully supportive of Bach and Co.

It included this: “For many athletes, in common with their contemporaries across the world, preparation and/or qualification journeys are now being affected.

“Whilst we acknowledge the IOC are doing their best to ensure that the qualification process remains fair for all athletes across all sports, we are in regular dialogue with them on this matter, as it is clear there are significant challenges developing in training and qualification programmes that will have a major impact between now and the Games.”

Hopefully they will listen... but I wouldn’t bank on it.

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