Finding our way
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - June 1, 2020 - 12:00am

“I hope that the world turns and that things get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that, even though I do not know you, and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you, I love you. With all my heart, I love you.” - Imogen Poots as Valerie, “V for Vendetta”

 In these unprecedented times, we are taking our first tentative steps into the unknowable future. Today, the Philippines relaxes its restrictions on quarantine with fingers crossed and teeth clenched, bracing for impact. Our greatest fear is that the hordes unleashed upon our roads, transportation system, shopping malls and eateries bring about an even greater outbreak of apocalyptic proportions. Nobody really knows what will happen, because we don’t know what the other person would do. When Magic Johnson returned to playing in the NBA  after he tested positive for HIV, everything seemed fine, more or less. Then he got wounded, and many of his contemporaries voiced their fear of and reluctance about playing against him. Multiply that by the possible carriers out and about today.

 We are still finding our way, and our only weak frame of reference is all these post-apocalyptic films, from “Omega Man” (later remade into “I Am Legend”), to “Waterworld,” the “Terminator” and “Planet of the Apes” movie series, that genre. But there are no sports in any of those scenarios, save for the few like “Rollerball” (1975 and 2002), on which giant multinational corporations control violent team events where death is a probability. Thankfully, we don’t seem to be headed in that direction.

This writer is grateful for the UFC, the NBA and Major League Baseball for trying to find a workaround for forced isolation. Aside from the major rules of getting tested, wearing masks and social distancing, there are no rules. We’ve accepted that no crowds will be allowed in venues. But what about small groups that have their own private access to luxury boxes? Will they be the first to be allowed to watch? They are at a safe distance, are enclosed, and are the ones who can afford testing. In theory, you could actually live in a luxury box, since they cost a fortune and have 24-hour service. It seems logical that these patrons would be the first exceptions.

The big questions are how big is a big group, and what can we afford? Is it four people, five, however many fit in a household? The NBA has announced it will resume at the end of July. They presume that teams will be isolated when not playing or at practice, and will get regularly tested for COVID-19. But we know how these things go. Inevitably there will be one bad egg in the bunch who will break protocol and cause a stir online. All it takes is one. And you can’t hide these giant, public figures when they’re out and about. Then what? Public perception is so fragile, and will stay that way for a while. Only the degree will vary from country to country. 

Combat sports would be easier, since there are less people involved. Individual athletes have smaller support teams, and are thus cheaper and easier to isolate and test. That may be one bright spot for sports in the immediate future. Broadcasters may be kept in booths or wear PPEs for their own protection. Somehow, it looks like it could work. But that still only serves a minuscule portion of the audience. Each must find its way, its new blueprint. 

If MLB can resume, what about car racing? Drivers are isolated from one another; pit crews are small and have their own working areas. Can live audiences be allowed in a hot climate, wearing masks and with social distancing? Will they need to sign waivers absolving the organizations and venues? That covers NASCAR and Formula 1. Motorcycle sport athletes are completely covered and wear helmets; why not them? Sailing may be viable, if teams are properly tested and quarantined, too. If airlines can operate, why not sports under these conditions? 

For other racing sports, they may have to reconsider how they do things. Sprinters, for example, may have to run individually, which will be infinitely less exciting. Swimming may be more challenging. For cycling and horse racing, covering a rider’s face would hamper oxygen intake and impede performance. And for the former, they need big open space to bike. 

Golf is an interesting consideration. Private golf courses are, in essence, enclosed, and there are built-in residences. If golfers wouldn’t mind being quarantined, there may be some opportunities there. 

Many pundits are saying we should put our lives on hold until a vaccine us available. That will take too long, what with formulation, animal testing, human trials, mass production and distribution down the line. And there is also some bad news, even if it works to a certain extent.

Consider this: even the most effective vaccine’s side effects can kill 0.5 percent to one percent of those who take it. Given that more people will take the vaccine than any other inoculation in history, those deaths will far outstrip the disease itself. For every billion people who receive the vaccination, that is five to 10 million people who will die from complications. Assuming that half of the world’s current 7.8 billion inhabitants allow themselves to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the potential fatalities could range between 39 million to 78 million people worldwide. For comparison, the total number of people killed in wars from the 20th century is estimated at 108 million. And we are making the unfounded assumption that any vaccine is reliable in the first place. Dengvaxia’s estimated fatality rate in the Philippines may be one percent, which translates to over 8,000 children. Multiply that number by 10 thousand. 

We are still finding our way. We need each other to share ideas, discoveries, hope and strength. That’s the only way we can emerge from this situation successfully, sooner, together.

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