"Football, like life in general, I think will never be the same," Lionel Messi told Spanish daily El Pais as he discussed La Liga's impending return to action after the coronavirus pandemic earlier this week. Messi's words hold true not only for football, but all sport, and some would say life in general, in the post-pandemic era.
While playing behind closed doors in empty stadiums -- save a few members of management and groundstaff, fully equipped in protective gear -- is now a reality, drastic changes will also be seen in training protocols, celebrations and even in the financial aspects.
Postponement of sporting events have impacts ranging from a plunge in teams' revenue to economic troubles of athletes and stakeholders. Therefore, it was never viable that there would be a long-term halt and so it inevitably brings the sporting world, much like the world in general, to a new reality -- living and playing while fighting with the virus. Addressing this new reality, sporting bodies around the globe have chalked out guidelines for resumption.
Almost all major European football leagues have now set dates or are in talks about resumption following a halt since March. The Bundesliga was the first major league to resume on May 16 but only after the German Football League (DFL) set a 51-page safety guideline.
The Premier League, set to return on June 17, has also laid down a strict testing and training regime for players. Starting from the need to sanitise corner-flags, balls, cones, goalposts and even playing surfaces to twice-weekly testing, a daily pre-training questionnaire and temperature check of players -- football seems now to have more activity off the field than on it.
It will not just be injuries that will see players missing games in the post-pandemic era. Headlines reading, "Hattrick hero sidelined after showing symptoms of coronavirus", may be the new normal as rules include isolating positive players for seven days.
Players also have to comply with protocols on the field. Goals in football or fall of wickets in cricket may not see players converging for a traditional team celebration for the foreseeable future.
Cricketers may just have to give up the age-old trick of shining the ball with saliva and sweat. The sport will see many more changes, with the ICC's 16-page guideline for the safe resumption of cricket also discouraging the shared use of drink bottles, towels and equipment.
In terms of revenues, Premier League clubs are set to lose up to an estimated 350 million pounds despite finding a way to finish the season. Elsewhere, Cricket Australia has projected a nearly 50 per cent dive in revenue, which was forecasted to be around 400 million USD.
Financial constraints of boards may in turn impact players in the form of pay cuts. After accepting to tour England in July, Cricket West Indies has mentioned that all players and staff will have to accept a 50 percent pay cut.
Sporting bodies also need to arrange extended schedules as travelling players and management may have to go under quarantine.
Such measures have already been taken for the West Indies' upcoming tour of England. The West Indies are set to arrive in England on June 9 and will then be based at Old Trafford for a three-week period of quarantine and training before travelling down to Southampton.
Not only in football and cricket, adhering to norms and the emphasis on 'social distancing' will be seen in every sport and sporting culture in the post-pandemic era will, like Messi said, not be the same.