As schoolchildren, in the playground, our breaks included the plague. If you were the bearer of the plague and you touched another, you were already two infected individuals hunting healthy guys. Since the playground was small and crowded, it was very easy to pass on the plague, touching those who played and crashing into others who were not participating in the game. The best option to avoid accidentally getting infected was to play something else, isolated in a corner of the playground. My friends and I often congregated to play football. Since teachers wouldn’t let us play with proper balls, we improvised with a plastic bag full of papers. In those days, playing sports was as much fantasy as recreation. We played until the bell rang or until the bag irreparably fell apart.
In the midst of a pandemic, you also have to “play” in a segregated way. You cannot run from one place to another, so as not to transmit the plague too quickly. There are two main reasons why:
(i) If many people have the plague at the same time, there will not be enough ICU beds, or respirators, for those whose condition deteriorates.
(ii) Earn time for vaccines and efficient drugs to arrive, and meanwhile, more people, thanks to the immune system, are resistant to the virus and cannot become infected or spreaders.
The latter is known as herd immunity and is what the UK Prime Minister initially thought of as the best main strategy. Boris Johnson soon changed his mind however, and days later he recommended to the population that they stay home as long as possible, and only frequent the popular British pubs at a later, safer date. His initial theory, in a simplistic way, argued that it was better to sacrifice the life of half an million old people than damage the economy of the entire country. This idea did not amuse the country’s Royal Family, and Queen Elizabeth II, 93 years old, locked herself in at Windsor Castle. This fiasco of a strategy had a grim culmination when Boris Johnson himself contracted COVID-19 and was admitted to an Intensive Care Unit.
Applied to football, the search for accelerated herd immunity would be like improving contracts for most of the players on the squad but releasing the club’s veterans. Franscesco Totti played in Rome his entire football life, from 1989 to 2017. He retired at the age of 40, in a match against Genoa, confessing that, for the first time in his life, he was afraid to go out onto the pitch. He came on as a sub, replacing Mohamed Salah. His greater terror though was not knowing what life awaited him after the final whistle. It would have been practical for Rome not to renew Totti’s contract beyond the age of thirty-five. But is it worth belonging to a team that doesn’t respect its veterans or to a nation that doesn’t protect its elders?
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