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Extra patience will be worth our wait in gold when sport finally returns

Liam Beckett


Cliftonville's Solitude stadium.

Cliftonville's Solitude stadium.

Kevin Scott / Presseye

Cliftonville's Solitude stadium.

There is an energy and dynamic building amongst sports fans in the province to get things up and running again, but my advice is simple - don't be letting the handbrake off just yet.

I'm detecting a mix of impatience and frustration out there, but first and foremost has to be people's health and welfare. Believe me, everything else is secondary and that includes sport.

God forbid, but if something dreadful happened as a result of sport jumping the gun with a premature comeback, it would be unforgivable.

We must always be guided by the people who know best and so far the message from the experts remains crystal clear: there can be no relaxation in social distancing whatsoever just yet.

With that in mind, you'd have to ask what the logic would be in trying to bring, say, football back - and how would it even work?

In that regard, we are also steered by UEFA guidelines and they have requested that we submit a proposed re-start plan for consideration by May 25.

UEFA have also emphasised that entry into their competitions will be based on sporting merit - and rightly so - and clubs are therefore being encouraged and urged to bring all competitions to a natural conclusion if at all possible.

Nevertheless, the immediate future for us is riddled with countless permutations and every club will quite understandably have their own viewpoint, but I must say I've been impressed by the informative, hands-on transparency being shown by the NI Football League during all of this.

However, all of these ifs and buts will depend solely on the evolution of the Covid-19 pandemic and it will only be the guidance from government and health authorities which will ultimately determine when it's considered safe enough for everyone to return to sport.

There's also no doubt that it's a time for leaders to lead - indeed, it's at times like this that we get to see the mettle and just what some people are made of, and those who wilt will be found seriously wanting.

We are all in completely uncharted waters and never have we faced an invisible enemy such as this in my lifetime, so it remains nigh-on impossible to commit to a date for the safe resumption of competitive sport, but I still live in hope that we get to finish all competitions on the field of play when the opportunity allows us to do so.

By the same token, I'm not naive enough to ignore the fact that the longer this coronavirus crisis persists, the less likely we are to see competitive sport back on the menu anytime soon.

Stand and deliver

I was heartened by the news this week of an intended experiment to re-introduce standing for fans at football matches in England.

Manchester United plan to provide ‘safe standing’ for some 1,500 spectators at Old Trafford in a controlled and supervised trial. I hope it works because I would welcome a return to proper standing facilities at games. 

I’ve been to several matches across the water where, even though fans have paid for a seat, almost everybody elects to stand, so others are left with no choice but to do likewise for virtually the entire game if they are to see any of the action down on the pitch.  

So, yes, by all means bring back safe standing areas at football matches, but don’t forget to reduce the ticket prices accordingly.

All in a race against time

The Armoy Road Races have, as expected, fallen foul of the coronavirus pandemic and there is no disguising the fact that motorcycle road racing faces a crisis like no other in all my years following the sport.

I totally echo the views expressed this week by the vastly experienced Armoy Road Race clerk of the course, Bill Kennedy, when he highlighted the struggle race clubs face, together with his genuine concerns for the very future of the sport.

Road racing is extremely dependent on sponsorship and now a major question mark must hang over several existing — or indeed potential — sponsors whose businesses have also been crippled by Covid-19 practically bringing the country, including commerce, to its knees.

Many firms will now take years to recover, which will greatly limit and restrict their ability to sponsor sport and its athletes, so I also see many problems ahead.

It’s good, decent people and volunteers who run these roadracing events and they all do their absolute best but, while they are many things, they are not miracle workers. 

One thing I do know is that, hand on heart, I can never see the sport returning back to what it used to be back in the day. Sadly those days are gone and never to return.

Belfast Telegraph