“I ain’t playing. I ain’t got the fans in the crowd. That’s who I play for. I play for my teammates. I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. If I show up to an arena and there are no fans in there, I ain’t playing.”
Back in March Basketball’s biggest name, LeBron James, was bullish in his response to the idea that elite sport around the globe would be pushed behind closed doors. He branded the idea “impossible” and seemed shocked at the sheer audacity of the claim – in his head, sport without fans simply does not compute.
No one could have predicted what would come to pass as very quickly the global pandemic, not the sport, took centre stage and everything was put on hold. Fans and players alike were given a chance to do something that they rarely get to do during a season – take a breath.
As it transpired, we the fans were counting our lucky stars that we were able to see sport at all. Except instead of watching from the stands, we have to watch through silver screens; instead of antagonising rival fans in the ground, we have to wind up our mates watching it via text and instead of chanting, screaming and working up a frenzy, we have to hurl abuse at the referee or umpire from the comfort of our sofas. It’s all quite mad.
Sport has returned, seasons have finished, playoffs have been contested and yet there is still something missing. It all feels a bit strange. LeBron James has had to do the unthinkable and play in an arena with no fans, leading his team through the NBA Playoffs. England and Australia have played out frantic, thrilling ODIs and T20s against a backdrop of calm and quiet.
Of course, the situation that the world, let alone sport, finds itself in is unprecedented.here’s no rulebook to guide us through this situation, meaning sport has been forced to follow the age-old cliché to ‘take each game as it comes’. We are all no-doubt grateful to have it back but until fans are allowed to return, sport as we know it will never really feel the same – and no amount of added crowd noise will make up for that.