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Trevor Ringland

Why we must take calculated risks to get sport and life back up and running before some things are lost forever

Trevor Ringland


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On course: preparing for return of golf in NI during Step One

On course: preparing for return of golf in NI during Step One

Philip Magowan / PressEye

On course: preparing for return of golf in NI during Step One

The words we keep hearing in these uncertain times are 'the new normal'. For me, such a phrase requires an inherent acceptance that this virus, and its associated risks, will be with us for some time to come.

The world isn't going back to how it was before so there is little point in us waiting for it to do so. As we digest yesterday's news from Stormont, it is clear that, moving forward, this pandemic will require us, like anything in life, not to do the impossible by eradicating all risk but to assess them instead.

To move forward will require a collective responsibility and an understanding of the importance of the recommendations that we will receive, whether they be around social distancing or protective masks in public areas.

It's imperative that we don't over-burden our health professionals, who are doing everything they can for us, while putting their own lives at risk.

There will be another aspect too, though, in that not everyone is in the same position when it comes to this virus. There are the elderly and those otherwise vulnerable through health conditions who obviously have to be particularly strict when it comes to their precautions and the rest of us have to have the utmost respect for that.

But there's also my own age group - what I would call 'the inbetweeners' - and there's the younger group of those around 45 and under.

I don't believe that there's any sense in treating all those three as the same when it comes to how we proceed, be it in sporting terms or otherwise.

There is an inherent risk to almost everything in life and the coronavirus has been added to an already lengthy list. We have to look at taking sensible precautions but I feel we must also be allowed to take calculated risks.

Obviously, nobody has the right to endanger others, be they the elderly or the health service.

If, for example, a huge crowd of those over 70 wanted to attend an Ulster Rugby match, a Northern Ireland football international or a game in the Ulster Championship, then that of course is something that can't happen - the risk of flooding the health service with new, unnecessary cases would simply be too great.

Could you have a reduced capacity to allow for those in the stadium to adhere to social distancing regulations? Could you draw the crowd only from certain age groups?

But what this virus has shown us so far is that the risk to those in that youngest group, with a few exceptions, is largely minimal.

We have to allow that group to get back to work and back to play with, of course, social distancing rules being adhered to.

In rugby we have a phrase when the ball is at the back of a scrum - "use it or lose it".

For the world we find ourselves in as society battles Covid-19, I'd amend that old adage to "abuse it and lose it".

Let people show they can display the maturity and responsibility to assess risk and live alongside it for you can never remove it. If they fail to do so sensibly, then it becomes a different discussion.

Applying the idea to sport, it's clear that its return will have to involve some level of risk if we are to see it again any time soon.

Golf, for example, has already produced a document regarding how it can operate under sensible restrictions. It has done the work to ensure a framework that reduces risk.

We're told it will return in Step One of Stormont's plan but there's no reason why for the vast majority of us we couldn't be on a course tomorrow observing those guidelines.

Cycling, running, sailing and other individual sports would be the same. Already the risk is minimal and so long as those that need to are fully isolated, the chances of passing it on is significantly reduced again.

When you get into team sports like rugby, ones that would be reserved until Step Five, by and large it's young people who are playing and when it comes to crowds it's a debate for the experts.

Could you have a reduced capacity to allow for those in the stadium to adhere to social distancing regulations? Could you draw the crowd only from certain age groups?

Is it possible to take temperatures at the turnstiles and have supporters wearing masks inside?

Are these things that would work? And if not, why not? These, I feel, are the kind of debates we should now be having in order to challenge the shape of this 'new normal'.

We need to have honest conversations about avoiding the point where we are exercising caution solely for the sake of caution.

While we're talking here about sport, the same principles will apply throughout society, to businesses and to so many different strands of life.

We need as much running as best it can and if we're too slow to allow it, some things may never come back.

Trevor Ringland is a former Ireland and British Lion rugby international, board member of Co-Operation Ireland, President of the Irish Universities Rugby Union, chair of the Peace Players and a practising Belfast solicitor

Belfast Telegraph