NRL news | Why footballers, athletes get special exemptions during the pandemic

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Mark Levy is the host of 2GB’s Wide World of Sports radio show. Tune in from 6pm-7pm, Monday to Thursday!

The common question I’ve been asked throughout the pandemic is: why are these NRL, AFL and rugby players given special exemptions when I can’t run my business or go to work?

It’s a legitimate question to ask given the anxiety in the community at the moment, as the state governments and health officials attempt to control the spread of COVID-19.

If you want the answer, think about the escape that comes with watching NSW wrap up a 2-1 series win over Queensland in State of Origin, or Ash Barty fulfilling a childhood dream by following in the footsteps of her idol Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon, or cheering on the Wallabies in a nail-biting decider against France in Test match rugby.

While you’re sitting on the lounge watching these sporting events, you don’t have a care in the world and the stress that comes with a global health crisis is all but forgotten.

These athletes might not realise it while they are competing but they are providing us with some entertainment and respite from the pressures of paying bills and feeding our families, given the uncertain future stemming from these lockdowns. 

Sport is such an important part of Australia’s DNA and it’s proven a godsend for those of us under stay-at-home orders.

I sobbed uncontrollably watching Ash Barty win Wimbledon, I was overcome with a sense of pride as the NSW Blues wrapped up their third series victory in four years under Brad Fittler, I was on the edge of my seat cheering on the Wallabies and over the next two weeks, I’ll be supporting the Australian athletes who are striving for gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

Like the NRL and AFL, the International Olympic Committee has stared down the threat of COVID-19 by pushing on with the delayed Tokyo Games, albeit with restrictions unlike we’ve ever seen before. The usual pomp and ceremony has been dumped and replaced with virtual crowds.

The athletes won’t have the rapturous applause at the end of a track and field event or a swimming final on the pool deck. They’ll instead celebrate a gold medal moment and life-changing experience on their own.

I’ve covered two Olympic Games and the atmosphere in Beijing (2008) and London (2012) was electric. You’d run into athletes from around the world at the pop-up bars and nightclubs after they’d finished competition, but that’s a thing of the past.

In Tokyo, the Aussies are restricted to the team hotel and competition venues.  Once they’ve finished competing, they’ll be on the next flight home, where they’ll spend the mandatory 14 days in hotel quarantine.

If you ask any of the athletes, they’ll tell you it’s a small price to pay in their pursuit of an elusive Olympic gold medal. You might not think there’s a buzz around the Tokyo Games just yet but just like the other sporting codes; the Olympics will provide us with that escape during this pandemic.

We’re extremely lucky to have some of the smartest sporting administrators in the world when you consider what they’ve been able to achieve over the last 18 months.

Peter V’landys and Andrew Abdo have led the way in rugby league and the other codes have followed their lead. Let’s not forget the ARL Commission chairman kept the racing industry afloat after equine influenza hit back in 2007 and now V’landys is juggling two sports under threat from COVID-19.

We’ll look back on this period as a watershed moment for sport in this country because the codes have been forced to adapt, cut costs and pivot in what’s been uncertain times.

The NRL has staved off the threat of financial catastrophe, the AFL has kept going despite nightmare border closures, rugby delivered a sensational three-Test series between the Wallabies and France, netball relocated teams and Supercars revamped their schedule.

The mental health aspect that comes with a pandemic will be felt for years to come and if it wasn’t for these sporting codes providing us with entertainment and an escape from the anxiety associated with a global health crisis, we’d be climbing up the walls.

So, to those asking why these NRL, AFL and rugby players are given special exemptions when I can’t run my business or go to work; I hope you now understand why.

**Let me know what you think by emailing the Wide World of Sports Radio show by clicking here

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