Of Robots, Sex Dolls, Virtual Reality, Haptic Technology and Pitchside Diners

The world right now seems like a page torn out of your favourite dystopian sci-fi comic book. A deadly virus is on the rise and people are hidden inside their homes. The paranoid have already started building their doomsday bunkers. Shades of umbrella corporation, anyone? No public congregation, no festivals, no sports – the world is equally shit right now for everyone.

A ‘spectator’ sport without spectators is something we can’t imagine. The roar of ‘Attack, Attack, Attack’ from the Stretford End, or the famous kop belting out ‘You’ll never walk alone’ egging the players on are just pipe dreams right now. Football games currently feel like a free for all training session. With official jerseys, multiple cameras, and fake crowd noises. Truth be spoken, the sound effects do a much better job in the games they are borrowed from, than in stadia. Maybe, it’s an issue of immersion. More on that in the next part.

Fans in stadium have been replaced by cut outs, LED walls, pitch side diners and in some extreme cases, even sex dolls and robots. Trust the South East Asians to lead from the front there. Louis Van Gaal definitely would have been happy. Remember how he wanted his Manchester United players to be ‘horny’?

How is the game affected without the presence of fans, though? Apart from the obvious financial impact, how does the non presence of fans affect the game? In the short run, it’s an adjustment to be made for the players and coaching staff. Their ’12th man’ – at times, the most important variable – is missing. Some coaches however, have seen some positive to this. It helps them get their instructions across to the players on the pitch easier.

What about players that feed off the crowd energy, though? Some players were born to entertain – play to the crowd’s tune, play for the crowd. What happens to them? If this goes on for a prolonged time, would we be robbed of the chance to see ‘showmen’ or ‘showboaters’? And what about the effects of a hostile crowd on young players playing away from home? Remember Patrice Evra’s first taste of the Manchester derby? An away game now is just a game. Without the singing section, the tourists and the ultras, the game runs the risk of becoming very ‘mechanical’. Or, maybe those fan cut outs really are enough and these might just be the musings of an old soul not well versed with the TikTok generation?

A vociferous crowd also holds the power of swaying some refereeing decisions. A soft tackle, followed by the vehement and loud collective disapproval of the home fans has elicited many an erroneous yellow or red card over the years. It would be interesting to see how the absence of fans affects the quality of refereeing.

Let’s also not forget the mental repercussions of a pandemic on the players. So many players around the globe, agnostic of the sport, have tested positive for the virus. And recuperated obviously. But, it does leave a mental scar. These players are humans at the end of the day and have families too. N’Golo Kanté and Troy Deeney being famous examples of players who had voiced their concerns about the same. Is it wrong for a player to be wary of resuming play knowing that they have family members at home – who they could very easily spread this to in case they contracted it? On the other side of the spectrum are Kyle Walker and Novak Djokovic (or as an user on Reddit called him – Novax Djocovid). An anti-vaxxer, Novak partied carelessly, contracted the disease and quite frankly, brought a lot of shame on himself. This also puts a lot of pressure on sportspeople to behave responsibly, like the thought leaders and influencers they are. It definitely isn’t easy in these unprecedented times. Are they allowed to have mental breakdowns like the normal populace? Can the fans see them as humans?

It will be very interesting to see how the players cope with the pandemic. And more importantly, how do they cope with having no fans in the stadium.

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