Yesterday’s announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of what is effectively a three-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to deal with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has come as a hammer blow to Scottish sport and presents a real threat to this year’s Six Nations.
I have consistently maintained since the pandemic began that no sports events should be allowed to have spectators when there is a threat of the virus spreading, but I relented when the vaccination programmes permitted us to believe that public safety was being achieved, especially when the rules were introduced about only getting into stadia with proof of vaccination.
Now the whole vaccine passport debate has ended in one short statement from the FM. Such passports and the certificates issued by NHS Scotland showing your double jag status – they don’t do booster updates yet – have instantly become part of the miasma spread by experts, officials and politicians alike. For the certificates are all now redundant as the vaccines don’t work against Omicron – the only conclusion that can be deduced from the new restrictions. For if the vaccinations and boosters worked against Omicron, then why do we need these restrictions?
I am a trifle bitter about the whole certificate thing – my partner and I were double jagged and boosted before our recent trip to Tenerife but had to spend £250 on getting PCR tests done out there and two days after we got home. All negative, of course, and a total waste of money and effort, not least because the UK Border force didn’t even look at the various forms when we got back to Edinburgh Airport. Nice little earner for ‘Boris-friendly’ testing firms, though.
The new lockdown – and that is what it is – declares one thing above all, and that is that the experts and their poodles in political office don’t really have a clue about Omicron. They are all determined, however, that if everything goes to Hell in a handcart in the next month or so – and it might – then they can’t be blamed.
So it’s easier for them to ban outright than work round a solution, and the sheer lunacy of the situation is this – apparently it’s okay to have Christmas but bugger Hogmanay. As if Omicron can tell the difference.
If Nicola Sturgeon had the courage of her convictions she would have introduced a lockdown by law last night and stopped all public activities and families across Scotland from travelling to be with each other. But that would be a real vote loser, so she just targets pubs, clubs, and major sporting events.
My concern is rugby, not least because the very first major fixture to be affected is the Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh match scheduled for December 27 plus the return match on January 2. Thousands would have attended both matches, so there’s a huge cost implication for both professional teams, as well as the spectators being deprived of United Rugby Championship (URC) and 1872 Cup excitement.
I don’t know what the Scottish Rugby Union are going to do, but if the URC committee agrees then they should postpone both matches until after the lockdown.
The problem is that would take us into the Six Nations period, and that is where my biggest concern lies. For I cannot see Omicron backing off any time soon, and there’s Pi, Rho, and Sigma no doubt waiting down the line.
National clinical director Professor Jason Leitch, for instance, said on Monday that Scotland was nowhere near ‘peak Omicron’ and that would not happen until late January or early February. Scotland play England in the first round of the Guinness Six Nations on February 5, so if Leitch is correct – he has a depressing tendency to get this stuff right – then the Calcutta Cup match will be going ahead against the background of increased and increasing infections.
No Government could ignore such a surge, and that goes for those in power in Westminster, Paris, Rome and Cardiff, as well as Holyrood. Therefore I really fear that when these matters are reviewed in four weeks’ time, or even before then, upcoming major sporting events will not be allowed to have any reasonable number of spectators.
If the past two years have shown us anything about sport and particularly rugby and football, then professional sport without spectators is very much a poor option. We have also learned the hard way that some people just won’t do the right thing and get themselves vaccinated and boosted. It’s their human right to refuse vaccination, but what about the human rights of the rest of us?
So if, and it must now be a big ‘if’, the Guinness Six Nations 2022 goes ahead unhindered, then at the very least the unvaccinated must be refused attendance to any stadium where matches are played.