A nation that plays together, stays together

The battle of Waterloo was ‘won on the playing fields of Eton’ according to the Duke of Wellington. How fortunate we are to have a sports-mad, old Etonian for a Prime Minister to confront the Coronavirus.

Except Boris seems to have lost his inner wiff-waff. While instructing us to return to work in his speech to the nation last night, the PM held out the promise of a return to play. But with restrictions so contradictory and unbalanced, one worries about the rest of the plan.

On the work front, if you can’t work from home, you have to go to you place of employment. Employers will need to set up social distancing of 2 metres and you may need to wear a mask to protect yourself and your colleagues. On the play front, you can now play golf, but only alone or with someone from your own household. You will need to keep social distancing of 2 metres.

Why is it OK to commute by public transport and spend 8 hours inside a confined office with a bunch of virtual strangers from outside your household, but not OK to spend 3 hours outside on a golf course with one other person where you will always be much further away than 2m? The equation does not balance.

If the government says it’s now OK to go back to work, then it must be OK to let us play.  And why only golf, tennis and fishing? What about the many other ‘individual’ activities which could start right away with only a little tinkering to their rules.  There’s adventure sports, some athletics, bowls, equestrian and a whole range of watersports. If it’s safe to travel on a busy tube train, then it’s safe to windsurf across an empty lake.    

Kick-starting the return to play will do more than encourage the resumption of work.  Local sports and clubs play a central role in the fabric of community life. The lockdown is as much a threat to their future as it is to their professional counterparts.  Participation in sports is also a well-known stress-buster, something that many of us could do with in the current crisis.    

But most importantly, sport is fun, something there’s been precious little of over the past few weeks.  For most of us, work is not an end in itself, but the means by which we can enjoy the rest of our lives.  Our families, friends, fun and good times. Playing sports is one of the totemic ways we do that.  

After weeks of being ordered to stay home for fear of death, persuading people back to work is going to be an up-hill struggle.  Reopening amateur sports will give confidence in a measured return to something approaching normality.  A nation that plays together, stays together.   

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