COMMENT: Should Norwich City still be playing?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
When another UK-wide lockdown was announced on Monday, it felt like we'd gone back in time to last March.
Non-essential shops are shut, schools are (finally) closed and amateur sport is completely off the table.
Crucially, though, one of the key differences this time around is that elite sport will continue – so, for now at least, Norwich City can continue their Premier League promotion push.
This was a hotly-debated topic last season, and will no doubt continue to split opinion. While us mere mortals are making all these sacrifices, why should these millionaire footballers be able to gallivant around a field for more than an hour per day?
So long as precautions continue to be taken, though, that's exactly what they should be allowed to do.
Like so many others, sport is something that brings me a lot of joy. I enjoy my weekly seven-a-side with friends and playing tennis with my partner, while there are few things more relaxing in life than a leisurely stroll around a golf course on a sunny day.
And watching elite sport brings me a similar thrill. High-stakes football matches and enthralling Formula One races are a key part of my weekly routine, and something that I missed greatly in those bleak months when it was all cancelled last year.
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The mental health benefit of it for a lot of people is huge. No-one likes to see their favourite team lose, but I'm sure a lot of people would rather that than months of uncertainty over when we'd ever be able to see them in action again.
It's so important for those involved in the industry, too – not just for the wellbeing of sports professionals, but also financially for clubs and organisations who have everything on the line.
So many football clubs in the National League and below, and even some in the Football League itself, aren't financially stable at the best of times – and the loss of matchday revenue is something which continues to threaten the futures of historic clubs which are the cornerstones of their communities.
Norwich City's model allowed the club to still manage a small profit, revealed in its accounts in November, but the loss of matchday sales and rebates to TV broadcasters saw the Canaries take a £12million hit in the first few months of the pandemic.
Many clubs in a worse financial state are already struggling to stay afloat while no supporters can attend games, and are just about getting by through matchday sponsorship and TV money.
Take these away, and many of these businesses, which employ hundreds of staff and contribute millions to their local economies, will go under.
The most important factor to be considered while deciding whether or not elite football should continue is, of course, safety – the whole point of the restrictions which we have all endured over the last 10 months has been to protect people.
Subjected to swabs every few days, those involved in Premier League football are among the most tested people on the planet. While the EFL has fallen behind in that regard, they too will test players and club staff more regularly after a recent flurry of recent positive results at clubs in the Championship, League One and League Two.
This, along with strict measures implemented by clubs at their own training grounds and facilities, means that it should be safe for professional football to continue.
Of course, as with any rules, they only work if people stick to them – and that hasn't always been the case among footballers. Spurs trio Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso and Sergio Reguilon were pictured at a Christmas party with West Ham's Manuel Lanzini, while Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy held a New Year's Eve bash.
Meanwhile, Fulham forward Aleksandar Mitrovic allegedly attended a party with Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic on the turn of the year, while England stars like Kyle Walker, Ross Barkley and Jack Grealish have all been accused of breaching the rules.
Tougher punishments like lengthy bans would surely put a stop to that sort of thing, though – and while there have been some postponements in the Premier League and EFL in recent weeks, club outbreaks have been contained.
Unless those postponements become far too regular, then clubs like Norwich City should be allowed to go about their business as usual – even if there are no fans in stadiums to see it.