Liam Morgan

A steady stream of press releases from governing bodies in recent weeks has reinforced the view that sport returning to anywhere near normality is a distant proposition.

As competitions, events and leagues postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic slowly resume, the news cycle has gradually shifted from when (and if) sport comes back to how it looks when it returns.

Judging by guidelines published by a spate of Olympic International Federations (IFs), coupled with ongoing uncertainty over possible "second waves" of the virus and the absence of a vaccine, sport will look very different for the foreseeable future.

Certain aspects which will be incorporated into the resumption of events across the world will have been obvious inclusions in any such document - including testing, general social distancing requirements and limiting the number of spectators at venues - but it is the finer details that will stand out most to the ardent followers of each individual sport.

Many of these, such as banning a bowler shining a cricket ball using their own saliva in a bid as part of their swing-inducing routine, or pitchers licking their fingers in baseball, will have been done subconsciously by players throughout their careers. Telling them they are unable to do something which may have been second nature will be difficult to adapt to.

Umpires in baseball will be expected to wear gloves and masks and bases will also be cleaned at the end of each half inning.

Several Federations have published guidelines for when their sports eventually return ©WBSC
Several Federations have published guidelines for when their sports eventually return ©WBSC

Regular body temperature checks on athletes and participants being subjected to daily health screening are among the recommendations made by the International Triathlon Union, which admitted in its own guidelines that "every single aspect" of competitions will have to be reviewed in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

In hockey, the pitch will be disinfected and at international events, extra "zones" will be created to separate those involved in matches.

These are just a few examples – detailing them all would take up every inch of this particular column – but each one represents a glimpse into how future sports events will be held and organised.

The International Hockey Federation also conceded a return to normal international competition may not be possible until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, echoing a view which has increased the number of question marks hanging over the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

It is clearly easier for some sports to resume than others, while some believe it is immoral for it to even be considered at all, seeing as the world is dealing with the worst global health crisis in a generation.

Combat sports, where close contact is virtually a given, will surely be the last to start up again. Others, including tennis and cricket, inadvertently have social distancing ingrained in their rules anyway, so the hurdles to their resumption are, in theory, not as challenging as the likes of boxing and wrestling.

Of course, there are competitions and events which have already restarted under an extensive set of COVID-19 conditions.

The Bundesliga restarted earlier this month - but its return to normality is a long way off yet ©Getty Images
The Bundesliga restarted earlier this month - but its return to normality is a long way off yet ©Getty Images

Germany’s top-tier football league, the Bundesliga, became the first major European league to resume on May 16.

While some of the games have proven to be enthralling affairs, the difference between matches now and those that took place before the coronavirus halted the season are stark. You need only watch one minute of action to see how much has changed.

Aside from the eerie lack of spectators inside stadiums, players have been reluctant to charge into tackles as they once would have done and team-mates have, by and large, opted against contact-laden celebrations.

Home advantage in the Bundesliga has been all-but wiped out, with the away side winning 12 of the 27 matches held since the restart. Just five teams have won at their own ground, meaning the home side have only won in 19 per cent of games.

In Britain, the Premier League’s "Project Restart" has dominated the back pages, doing so while the front pages have carried stories about the country’s awful death toll and the Government’s fumbled response to the COVID-19 crisis.

As my colleague Nancy Gillen pointed out in her blog last weekend, the reasons for resuming the season are, to quote a much-used phrase in the game nowadays, clear and obvious. Money talks, after all.

At the time the Premier League getting back underway was first mooted, the project seemed insensitive at best, given the rising number of coronavirus-related deaths.

While Britain might be "past the peak" of the virus, those arguments remain and there are those who feel the league’s executives are choosing money over morals.

On the other hand, thousands of people in the country rely on football, including the top four professional leagues, for their livelihoods. It has as much right to return as retailers on the high street reopening their doors.

From a personal standpoint, football without fans is difficult to fathom. As a season-ticket holder of a Premier League club for the best part of 15 years, I miss not being able to attend matches, a rule which is likely to be enforced until considerably into the 2020-21 season.

Part of football’s allure and attraction is the experience with friends, family or even complete strangers at games. A cliché for match-going supporters, particularly those following Manchester United since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, is that the 90 minutes often gets in the way of a good day.

It goes without saying that this pales into insignificance when you think of those who have lost loved ones or have been affected in some way by the virus, but they are not mutually exclusive – you can long for being allowed back into a stadium to watch a match while understanding the impact COVID-19 has had on vast swathes of the population and being sympathetic to those hit hardest.

The "new normal" for sport is uncertain and unusual, but, for most of us, it is better than nothing.