The Open, Covide-19, Vousden

Thought for the Day
Knowledge is being aware of what you can do. Wisdom is knowing when not to do it

Getting real
I have been reluctant to write about a certain virus because, like most of us, I suspect, I’m sick up to here of reading, hearing and talking about it. It seems as if it has been the only topic of news, or conversation, for 18 months and even in the midst of a global pandemic there’s a limit to what can be analysed, digested and discussed ad nauseum – and we reached it some time ago.

All of which means, of course, that today’s topic is covid-19 – at least as far as it relates to the Open Championship, which starts next week at Royal St George’s. We find ourselves in an odd hybrid period between full lockdown, with its major restrictions on all our lives, and the freedom of normality, that we took for granted until March last year. The one good thing that can be said about lockdown (apart from the fact that it saved lives) is that it gave us certainty. The rules were clear and unambiguous, and fed to us with such regularity that people incapable of joined-up thinking must have been the only ones unable to understand them.

But now, with many restrictions lifted, and many more about to be, we inhabit a strange betwixt and between netherworld in which some regulations make sense and others seem just plain daft – none more so than events at which large numbers of people are gathered.

The R&A has lobbied government powerfully behind the scenes to ensure that this year’s Open Championship will be seen by as many spectators on the ground as possible and its efforts have been so successful that 32,000 will pass through the turnstiles each day. However, those lucky thousands will need to prove their vaccination history or give proof of a negative lateral flow test, complete a health questionnaire, provide contact tracing details and watch a covid-19 educational video. In addition, face coverings will be mandatory indoors and are recommended everywhere else.

Laughably, spectators are also advised: ‘Social distancing must be observed at all times in areas designated by the R&A,’ to which one can only say: ‘Good luck with that.’ It also begs the question: What is the point of insisting on social distancing in some areas, when it will be impossible to achieve throughout most of the site? So, Joe Spectator will presumably visit somewhere like the tented village with its grossly over-priced merchandise, and rigidly maintain a minimum one metre distance between himself and others, before strolling outside to stand three deep behind the ropes to watch golf being played.

But this is the peculiar limbo of our lives today, where a majority of the population is vaccinated and therefore, hopefully protected, but where infection rates (but not hospital admissions) continue to rise sharply.

In light of the large numbers of spectators that will attend, several competitors have complained about the apparently draconian restrictions applied to them, and a number have withdrawn from the championship, either because of these harsh regulations or the virulence of the Delta variation which puts Britain on the red list for travel from many other countries.

All golfers and entourages, such as caddies, coaches, family and other support staff are banned from visiting supermarkets, bars or restaurants and need to stay in either an approved hotel or private residence and if the latter, a maximum of four are allowed. In years gone by the biggest names (well, their management companies) rented a large house for the week and everyone piled in.

Not surprisingly, there have been dark mutterings among the players ever since the R&A let them know exactly how restricted their week would be, with Rickie Fowler in particular breaking cover to say: ‘It seems like us as players are having to jump through some hurdles and [go] dodging bullets and they’re having 32,000 fans a day at the tournament.’

Yes Rickie, it does seem a bit contradictory but time, perhaps, for a small reality check. Worldwide, just under four million people have died as a result of coronavirus – more than 600,000 in your own country. Continuing restrictions are a pain in the neck for both competitors in the Open Championship, and the spectators who pay to see them. But you, unlike many others, can continue to pursue your extraordinarily well-paid profession, and be cosseted in luxury while you do so.

Quote of the Week
After an abominable round, a man is known to have slit his wrists with a razor blade and, having bandaged them, to stumble into the locker room and enquire of his partner: ‘What time tomorrow?’
Alistair Cooke

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.