On the 13th of June, what felt like a minor miracle happened. There was live televised sport with an audience.
In what was to be a year of Olympics and Euros, seeing crowds watching sport would not be remarkable; 2020 is hardly a typical year.
On 13 June 2020, I watched a live rugby match on television, and it was a sign of hope – hope that life may one day return to (relative) normal.
Now, I’m not super familiar with the New Zealand rugby union scene at club level so I don’t know if matches there are often rollercoaster affairs. Given how strong the All Blacks are, I suspect most top-flight club matches aren’t dull as a rule.
This match between the Highlanders and Chiefs kept on shifting momentum until Highlanders scored in the final minute, sending them into the lead. (As a rather wonderful twist, the Chiefs coach, Warren Gatland, is the father of the Highlanders’ saviour goal scorer.) Catch the game highlights at the bottom of this page.
It was thrilling stuff, elevated no end by the fact that it was in front of a sizeable audience. While there were swathes of empty seats, it was great to see and hear a crowd getting swept up in the proceedings. At times, it sounded more like a cup final than the opening match of a competition that had been quickly cobbled together to replace the hemisphere-wide Super League.
I’m sure I’ll watch some of the upcoming English sports that are happening behind closed doors (or ghost matches as they’re wonderfully known in Germany) but, for me, cardboard cut-outs of fans as seen in Australia’s NRL or piped in crowd noise won’t make up for the lack of atmosphere. I fear that personally a key part of sport’s intoxicating escapism is being consumed by the noise of the spectators.
While I think it’ll be comforting for many to be able to watch football, cricket, snooker and other sports on TV in these bio-secure environments, I suspect I’ll be getting up to watch more of Super League Aotearoa for the excitement of the crowd – as well as for the message of hope that, in time, we too can head off to venues on these shores to lose ourselves and revel in a shared passion.