Remember when we could do this?
People in New Zealand did something this weekend that’s a distant memory for Americans. They filled a stadium nearly to its capacity for a sporting event.
New Zealand says it has successfully beaten the coronavirus. No one has tested positive for the virus since May 22. Prime Minister Jacinda Ahearn announced last week that the country had successfully halted the spread of the virus but should be prepared for the possibility of new cases in the future. In the meantime, nearly all of the restrictions put in place to slow transmission of the virus have been lifted. That means sports are back, and back to normal.
New Zealand has five teams that compete in Super Rugby, a league that also has clubs in Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan. Though the Super Rugby season can’t go forward as originally intended, the Kiwi clubs will play a 10-week competition called Super Rugby Aotearoa (the Maori word for New Zealand). Play began this weekend with the Blues facing the Hurricanes and the Highlanders facing the Chiefs.
In Dunedin, on the south island, an estimated 20,000 fans caught the Highlanders-Chiefs game, the world’s first pro sporting event without a cap on fans since the pandemic began.
In Auckland, the Blues and Hurricanes played before a sellout crowd of 43,000. The stadium, Eden Park, seats 50,000 but the capacity was reduced due to the seating configuration and because of a ticket deal offering one free children’s ticket with the purchase of a $20 general admission ticket that was so popular it had to be canceled.
TV execs were initially preparing for the challenge of broadcasting rugby games without crowd noise but that wasn’t necessary. Both games had a roaring crowd reacting to every play. It was all so... normal.
Seeing sports return to normal, even in the farthest corner of the world, is encouraging. It’s also infuriating.
New Zealand, an island nation with a population of just 5 million and a leader who appears to be intelligent, has certain advantages for controlling the spread of the disease that the United States doesn’t. But as places like Texas and Florida continue full steam ahead on reopening, even as coronavirus cases continue to increase, it’s clear that not only is the United States nowhere close to eradicating the virus in the way New Zealand has, it has no interest in doing so. When will Americans be able to file into stadiums by the tens of thousands without fear?
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