Almost a year after Novak Djokovic became the messiah of free will, the one-man resistance to the global vaccine mandate, elite sports have another watershed moment in the post-pandemic world, one which can truly be the new normal. On Sunday evening, Tahlia McGrath was allowed to participate inCommonwealth Games final against India, despite testing positive for COVID-19.
Tahlia showed mild symptoms, and returned positive, but was given a green flag by International Cricket Council (ICC). The Indian team, led by Harmanpreet Kaur, found it minutes before the flip of the coin. Do they have the choice and power to refuse? When it comes to women’s cricket, no one can match Australia’s rich and varied talent pool. They could have easily named a substitute. But the choice they made may very well end up establishing a new normal for sports events.
It’s hard to understand the logic behind this decision. Not a long ago, the whole side – or anyone in close contact with the infected person – was asked to undergo self-isolation, and return at least two negative tests, before reuniting with the squad. There have been instances where Covid-19 led to the cancellation of the whole tour.
But what has changed between then and now? Admittedly, the cases have declined across the world, but as of now, there’s no claim about the decrease in the potency of the virus. It is still as strong as it was before. To force a bunch of sportspersons – both Indian and Australian – to go through the psychological distress of sharing the ground with a COVID-19-affected person is the lowest an elite sport can stoop.
It hardly matters that cricket is not as a contact-heavy sport as others, or McGrath lasted just four balls. Think of the wicket-keeper standing just behind her, in full awareness of her COVID-19 status, and yet she can’t budge an inch. There couldn’t be a bigger honour than representing your nation on the global stage, and if you have the privilege of doing so, you shouldn’t worry about this trivial flu that has finished just over six million lives. No way you can forfeit the match just because of a virus, and settle for anything less than gold.
But it’s not just about the Indian players. A bunch of Australian cricketers too had to share the field with McGrath for the entire game. Mental toughness and all that jazz. No Australian cricketers will ever come forward to speak against the decision that helped their team, but that shouldn’t imply they must be comfortable with it.
McGrath is not to be blamed. She was only fulfilling her duties as a contractual worker to Cricket Australia (CA). It’s very easy to fall into the trap of sports being something nobler than life, a greater calling only tiny minorities pursue, and even tinier the number who makes it to the top. Every hurdle is there to be crossed. Stumbling blocks are just another learning curve. Elite space is no place for humane emotions. This romanticism elevates these sportstars to divine figures but also dehumanises them to a terrifying extent.
Before asking the governing bodies – both ICC and CA – it’s important to know what McGrath herself felt about taking the field.
The pandemic years were a tough phase to navigate for elite sports. The whole fabric of sports as we have known it for so long was ruptured, the carapace of love and unity and the shared cultural connection was washed off, and soon came the realisation that modern sports are nothing more than a money-minting scheme for billionaires.
The McGrath episode should be seen with the same suspicion as global corporates forcing their vulnerable COVID-19-affected employees to stick to the deadline.
As far as the game is concerned, Australia won despite trailing for the majority of the game. They rode on a brilliant half-century from Beth Mooney to post 161 before restricting India to 152/10. Despite losing both openers quite early, India seemed very much in control, thanks to a third-wicket stand between skipper Harmanpreet and Jemimah Rodrigues. Things took turn for the worse after Harmanpreet’s dismissal, as none of their lower order batters offered any resistance to Australian bowlers.
Lead Image: Tahlia McGrath/Instagram