Wimbledon is canceled, and it feels like a hammer. Canceled. Not postponed. Canceled. They’re not holding out hope of getting this under way in August or October. That’s that, friends. It isn’ t an April Fool’s gag. They’re going to let the grass grow across the pond, and they’ll see everyone in late June 2021.
This is no surprise. How do you hold an intensely global sporting event like Wimbledon, when you’ve already postponed the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and pretty much everything else this spring and early summer? How do you jam another rescheduled big wazoo into the autumn, when the autumn is already clogged with other hopefully and perhaps baselessly rescheduled big wazoos like the French Open, the Boston Marathon, Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder—not to mention the U.S. Open, which traditionally closes out the tennis summer? How do you fit anything else in with what may (or may not) happen in the rest of 2020 for the NFL, the NBA, NHL, baseball, soccer, golf and college sports and on and on?
Wimbledon 2020 didn’t make any sense, and credit to the All England Lawn Tennis Club for acknowledging the obvious.
I’m afraid we’re all going to have to start recalibrating our expectations. Or, rather: re-recalibrating our expectations. There already was a moment of recalibration in sports when this pandemic began to unleash—shutdowns in Asia, shutdowns in Europe, then in the U.S., dramatically, when an NBA game was unplugged moments before tipoff. Since then, we’ve all been waiting, for flickers of hope that normal operations could resume, maybe with fans, maybe not, maybe something smaller, relocated, creative, but…not this month…or next month…or the month after that.
I understand the speculation. I get why commissioners are holding out. When will sports return? is a distracting, largely harmless parlor game amid the grim headlines of the day. It’s also reasonable to point out that sports is indeed a business, and there are plenty of people who will suffer economically as a result of these cancellations and postponements. I’m not talking about the billionaires who pay the millionaires—I’m talking about the many ordinary people involved in the everyday operations of sports. We’re already seeing the impact on stadium workers, a good many of whom are already out of work, or bracing for a layoff.
But nobody knows a thing. There’s no blueprint, no crystal ball. All of our speculation is wishful thinking, as this pandemic continues to escalate and consume the nation. Believe me, I want these games back as much as anyone—I have had it with the nostalgic replays; I’d watch a Jets preseason game in slow motion at this point—but it’s all a daydream, rooted in nothing.
Hopeful signals from Asia were perhaps a bit too hopeful—it’s proving harder to get sports back up and running than expected, even in countries where the virus is subsiding. (If you want to see the stakes, read Joshua Robinson’s piece on how a single Italian soccer game may have transformed the pandemic in that country.) Elsewhere, there are fanciful ideas of testing and monitoring athletes before competition, but how could anyone justify that sort of allocation when hospitals are begging for safety gear and ventilators?
This is what I mean by the re-recalibration. Sports are neither a global priority nor are they immune from the forces halting so many other lives. It should also go without saying that none of the disruptions happening to sports could ever compare to the true horror unfolding in communities practically everywhere.
Sports are sports, nothing more. And sometimes they can’t help themselves. It’s been fascinating/amusing/slightly ghastly to watch the NFL charge on with confidence this will be all sorted out in time for us all to resume the Great American Sunday Ritual come September. The league is making adjustments—they’re doing a stay-at-home draft, which you’re not supposed to make fun of, or the fussy NFL might zap you with a fine—but there’s an outward assumption that we can keep chattering on about mock drafts and free-agent acquisitions and eventually huddle back to business as usual in the fall.
Honestly, I’d love to know that the world has found its equilibrium by then. I’d love to chuckle at Tom Brady in his new Buccaneers outfit. I’m grateful for these sorts of distractions. I might even read a mock draft. That’s how upside down the world has gotten.
In the meantime, Wimbledon is canceled, and another ritual of summer is lost. It’s OK to acknowledge what this cathedral of a tournament means, and how early July won’t be the same without seeing Roger and Serena sliding around that sunburned British turf.
But that’s not the reality out the door, and on the ground.
This week, New York City began construction of a temporary hospital on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, aka the site of the 2020 U.S. Open. The tennis center hospital is being built to offset some of the patient traffic which is currently overwhelming nearby hospitals.
That’s the reality on the ground. Sports will have to wait, like everything else.
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Write to Jason Gay at Jason.Gay@wsj.com
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