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COVID-19 and Sunderland

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented times in sport. Not since the world wars of the early 20th century has the global sport industry been so disrupted.

Sunderland v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Here in the UK, leaders in sport were initially operating on a basis of following government guidance, in the absence of any real drastic measures. Then a watershed moment; reports that Arsenal manager Mikael Arteta had tested positive for the virus.

Suddenly the landscape changed, the Premier League held an emergency meeting, along with the English Football League (EFL), and subsequently all professional football was suspended until April 3rd at the earliest. The Premier League will meet again March 19th to discuss the disruption in the longer term.

Elsewhere, the vast majority of major sporting fixtures were cancelled or suspended, with Cheltenham festival and Rugby Super League some notable exceptions.

So, what about the impact of the crisis on football?

Whilst public safety is paramount, the Integrity of competition will also be central to the discussion for leaders of the Premier League and the EFL. With Liverpool on the verge of their first title in almost 30 years, and EFL clubs vying for financially rewarding promotions, a recommencement of the current season at some point, must remain the number one priority outcome. However, given the uncertainty of the pandemic, amid growing concerns for public health, it is likely to be too early to make definitive conclusions.

It’s been largely suggested that the postponement of EURO 2020, due to take place across 12 different European countries between June and July, will crucially allow English football time to reassess the situation in the coming months, and possibly play out the remainder of the 2019-20 season over the summer.

UEFA Decision on EURO 2020 Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Also, central the discussion with be Finances. In football, those clubs at the top of the league pyramid will be less affected, with most clubs having 5-6 homes games left to maximise matchday revenue. However, the financial model of Premier League clubs relies less on matchday revenues, compared to EFL clubs, where the need to make money from home fixtures is crucial to their success and sheer existence. Not to mention the effect on SME’s around football club such as pubs and cafes, who rely heavily on matchday footfall.

Already league clubs such as Macclesfield and Southend are struggling to pay player wages, therefore the effects of the pandemic could prove catastrophic for many lower league clubs and stakeholders who make up to two thirds of their revenue on match days.

Next, jobs. The suspension of professional sport has exposed the uncertain nature of working the in the industry. Support staff, journalists, photographers and marketing and event professionals, who often work as freelancers, suddenly do not have a product to generate their income. Where zero hour or short-term contracts, and self-employment reigns, there is a real challenge for leaders in sport and government to protect the livelihood of many thousands working in the game.

As sport fans, how can we help?

Given the needless panicking buying in supermarkets, I reverted to buy ‘local’ more than ever this week. I would urge all Sunderland fans to do the same, where possible. Local grocers, bakers and butchers are well stocked, as they generally have daily deliveries and produce fresh produce daily.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Sunderland v West Ham United - Stadium of Light Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

A shout out to Pickings Butchers (East Boldon) and Mullers Bakers (Sea Road, Fulwell; Vilette Road, Hendon; and Blandford Street, City Centre) - they are personal favourites and have a rich history serving the city. Other local outlets, are of course, available.

Following the amazing fundraiser by Roker Report followers last year, The Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen and Sunderland Foodbank were supported immeasurably. However, they, and other community action groups still need your support. They are also reporting shortages in everyday essentials, so if you have plenty to spare, please give where you can. If youre hoarding every day essentials please stop!

The Soup Kitchen can be found at Emmanuel Free Church, in Hudson Road. SR1 2LJ. Full details can be found here. https://www.facebook.com/sunderlandcommunitysoupkitchen/

The Sunderland Foodbank details can be found here https://sunderland.foodbank.org.uk/

Can local business do anything to change their business model? As the measures to stop the COVID-19 virus become more drastic, despite the country’s children still attending school, I have seen some really inventive ways of businesses attempting to keep busy, although I admit these are the hardest of times for many.

Whilst the government is stepping up instruction to avoid social gatherings in pubs, theatres, cafes, gyms etc, they have stopped short of introducing a full lockdown, which would allow small local businesses to make claims against insurance companies.

Call me cynical, but while France has introduced a whole raft of measures to support people out of work, along with local businesses (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coronavirus-update-economy-uk-business-cash-handouts-rishi-sunak-a9405711.html) and Ireland have announced a brand-new social welfare payments for its most needy (https://www.independent.ie/world-news/coronavirus/coronavirus-explainer-emergency-pandemic-unemployment-payments-what-youre-entitled-to-if-youre-out-of-work-39047605.html), the UK government seems to be protecting the city, particularly insurance companies, ahead of the interests of SME’s, who account for 98% of businesses in the UK. At the same time, Richard Branson has suggested all 8500 employees take 8 weeks unpaid leave in the next 12 weeks. With a personal worth of £4.1billion, he could pay each of his employees £500 per week, and his personal wealth would reduce by £51million, or 1.244% of his personal worth. Richard Branson has called for a £7.5billion government bailout, from a government he attempted to sue over the ownership of his train franchise.

So, what can local businesses do? I have seen some really inventive examples. Barrys UK (a gym based in London) https://www.barrys.com/studio/london-central/ have started Personal Training and group Gym sessions via Instagram.

Nibble HQ (a café in Manchester) https://twitter.com/nibble_nq have offered a prepayment scheme where customers can buy prepayment cards and be rewarded by 25% by the owners as a thank you, once current measures are lifted. I must stress, cash flow is so importance to local businesses, so it’s vital to support them in their time of need.

Other pubs, cafes and food outlets have ramped up their delivery and takeaway services. The Cliff in Roker, http://www.thecliffbarandkitchen.co.uk/ are one of many who offer a take-out Sunday Lunch.

Although I would urge businesses to employ local delivery drivers, rather than use the bigger companies such as JustEat and Deliveroo, where possible.

Finally, above all, let’s just make sure we look after each other, particularly the most vulnerable. Check out #howcanihelp campaign on twitter for ideas on how to look out for vulnerable neighbours, many of whom may face months of isolation, so may need help with shopping, dog walking prescription runs.

I have seen astonishing examples of ignorance towards the current situation. Please do not put others at risk, please consider others when shopping and socialising in general, and please support the local businesses, we too often take for granted.