By STEVE MASCORD
I SUSPECT that if we are able to stay healthy during the current crisis, there will be a certain zen state that will come to us eventually.
If we can afford and obtain food, if our relatives and friends stay out of harm’s way, if social order is maintained, then the noise of the birds and the lack of cars spewing noxious gas, planes flying overhead and the harried daily commute will be something we will come to appreciate.
They’re all big ‘ifs’. It’s the ifs that are scary right now.
Things won’t go back to the way they were. But who’s to say the way things were is the way things should be? Sure, there are mortgages and loans and rates to pay. But that aside, have you noticed how little money you actually need to spend to get by, now that you can’t go anywhere?
I moved to the UK at the beginning of 2018, basically tossing in my career as a sports writer in Sydney. Since I got here, I’ve been trying to move on from being a beat reporter and open up opportunities in other areas – frankly without much success.
There are lots of exciting projects, like the platform on which you are reading this column, but they develop at a glacial, painful pace.
So my life has been much like a lot of your lives are going to be over the next few months: staying in on my computer, exercising once a day, no external workplace, no holidays. I like it like this. Travelling up and down to the north of England to do my merchandising business and attend games for various other reasons? I wasn’t enjoying it.
After 51 years of going around the world – to quote the late Peter Frilingos – “more times than Yuri Gagarin”, I’m now a contented homebody.
That’s not to say I won’t travel again when the footy’s back; which brings us to what rugby league looks like out of all this.
I think what we are seeing outside at the moment (when we do venture out) can perhaps be a metaphor that helps us find the answer. In the absence of pollution, there are signs of regeneration – the air in cleaner, grass will perhaps grow back on tracks worn raw by humans.
The planet is like any other biological entity, it finds ways to flush itself out, clean itself up.
Regeneration, realignment, reconsideration are opportunities for all walks of life. If we have nowhere to spend our money because the shops are all closed, we don’t need as much money (bills excluded, as I said previously).
(To go off on a tangent, the author Yuval Noah Harari contends humans were happiest when we were hunters and gatherers and that agriculture was a con that brought us money and disease. I like that).
Rugby league, like all existing sports I would assume, is something people want to play and watch so it will return.
But if prioritisation is going to be a factor in the bounce-back for human society after this, then it won’t come back in a manner that is identical to the way it stopped.
This is where the game’s administration has a responsibility that may also be interpreted as a an opportunity.
The first step is to gain an acceptance that things can’t be the same because we can’t afford it, be that eight and a half teams in Sydney or three tiers of the professional game in England.
Our leaders – Peter V’Landys, Todd Greenberg, Ralph Rimmer and Robert Elstone – need to sell that reality when the light at the end of the tunnel becomes visible. Sell it, and get the majority of stakeholders to agree – just as out government has sold the message that we need to stay home right now to save lives.
Scare people if necessary. The game will die if we try to make it exactly the way it was before.
Then, with everyone on board with prioritisation, our leaders have the opportunity to do what many in their positions have not been able to do in more than a century of trying – sit above self-interest and history and politics and make decisions solely for the good of the game.
If that means fewer clubs in the NRL because it can no longer afford 16 and some of those 16 can’t afford to continue, then sobeit.
If it means only one elite professional competition in the UK with a pyramid structure underneath with no promotion and relegation, sobeit.
Previous upheavals in the sport’s history have provided similar opportunities to fix things once and for all, to future-proof rugby league. They have been wasted.
Perhaps we have changed the culture enough since the last opportunity – the Super League War – to actually do it this time.
So, get outside once a day, breath in the fresh air. Before long, perhaps, you’ll smell the aroma of rebirth.
By STEVE MASCORD