Martin Hannan: Enough is enough – the time has come for the Six Nations to pass.



If there’s something we’ve noticed in the last few months, it’s that spectator sport without spectators is nonsense. Rugby, soccer, cricket, horse racing and any other sport should be commended for keeping it going at least, but fake crowd noise and clever camera work that bypasses the empty stands and levels are clearly not a solution to the dilemma we all face – once the desired herd immunity is achieved through mass vaccination, we should simply not attend sporting events.

Governments, health systems, and the general public have thrown a loop at the introduction of the new viral variant. It was definitely predictable and planned, but its arrival totally changed things. We need to reconsider our whole approach to sports and life in general – it would be a good start to lock it down for three months beginning tomorrow, and why not all of us are at level 10 here, or level 20 in the South, is beyond me.

The Guinness Six Nations will commence in just over five weeks. Scotland flies to Twickenham on Saturday, February 6, where kickoff will be at 4:45 pm. Earlier in the day, Italy will play France and Wales will host Ireland on February 7.

As things stand, at any of these events, or indeed at any of the Guinness Six Nations games, there is simply no risk of spectators being permitted. The Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, Irish and British governments all had to respond to the latest coronavirus strain that is spreading like wildfire, and lockdown steps were further strengthened. The Italian and French governments have also tightened their restrictions, and every expert I’ve seen on television says that the restrictions should be even tighter and that this new variant should be suppressed for a long time, though there are rumours that other variants might come any day.

As events have sadly shown, players and coaches are not immune to the virus, and I must admit that I feel that putting their teams together at this time is the height of irresponsibility for the different unions.

Hosting these games in February and March, I’m sure, ensures that all the stadiums will be vacant – there’s just no way to encourage mass gatherings until much later in the year when the vaccination systems actually kick in in different countries.

Don’t take that for my word. Over the weekend, the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties, including anaesthesiologists, general practitioners and surgeons, put it bluntly:

We know that with the implementation of a national immunization program, there is hope on the horizon, with other vaccinations likely to be approved shortly.

“However, it will take months for this to make a significant difference, and the short-term situation for our NHS and public health services remains bleak.”

With a record number of new cases and deaths still the across the UK, and with hospital beds in short supply – there was also a warning that oxygen was running out of English hospitals – why are we still hanging on to sporting events at all?

I’m sorry to say that, but a third-rate alternative is a rugby international without a crowd. Forget all the TV and corporate bluster – the real point of the Six Nations is for people to fly to various countries to meet mates and brother clubs and then attend the game or watch it in a clubhouse or favorite bar, cultivating relationships that go back decades.

The truth is that mass vaccination would have made us much safer sometime later this year, and unless new strains emerge that the vaccine does not kill, we should be in a position where it is possible to allow spectators back at matches.

As the accounts of the Scottish Rugby Union have shown, income from paying fans at international matches is utterly crucial to the finances of the sport, so why stage matches that no one would pay to watch – and will broadcasters want to pay for a clearly inferior product?

Six Nations organizers eventually had to act and postpone games earlier this year, demonstrating that such drastic steps can be taken when needed.

It’s time to do it again, I guess. If the Zu, the reputation of rugby would take a terrible blow.


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