Here's hoping New Zealand's relatively mild brush with Covid-19 (so far) doesn't persuade some of our leading sports to become involved with some of the jiggery-pokery taking place in other parts of the sporting world.
The virus has been difficult enough for our rugby, cricket and other sporting bodies to deal with, witness the postponed Black Caps tour of Australia. But at least our sports haven't employed some of the sharp practices going on in, for example, the English Premier League – where clubs are successfully petitioning to have games postponed when they can't field their strongest sides.
The league is now looking at its rules covering postponements but you could say the pandemic has caused an epidemic in this context. In one of the latest, a much-anticipated local derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur was postponed – and it became clear the league's initial Covid-19 criteria were organically broadened to include injuries and even perfectly healthy players away at the African Nations Cup.
Arsenal's match with Spurs, for example, was postponed after one player – yes, one – was unavailable due to contracting the virus. Coach Mikel Arteta said he was missing "nine or 10" players. The EPL injury website listed 12 Arsenal players ruled out – one suspended, three at the African Nations Cup, seven injured and one with Covid.
But hang on just a moment…Arsenal have also just sent two players – including the well-performed Ainsley Maitland-Niles – to other clubs on loan.
Spurs sent a sniffy letter to the league saying: "The original intention of the guidance was to deal with player availability directly affected by Covid cases, resulting in depleted squads that, when taken together with injuries, would result in the club being unable to field a team. We do not believe it was the intent to deal with player availability unrelated to Covid."
However, the explosion of Omicron cases has been taken into account; clubs may apply for a postponement when they are unable to field 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper for a match due to Covid-19 infections, injuries, illness and/or those isolating.
There is no mention of the African Nations Cup nor loan players nor suspensions for being yellow- or red-carded. So why postpone the game? Why not call on youth players and reserves to fill in? That is, after all, the way of sport. Some of the most famous victories come – and careers are made – when underdogs prevail.
I'm thinking of the Baby Blacks of 1986 – the team mostly of comparative nobodies given All Black caps because the first-line players who'd been part of the rebel Cavaliers tour of South Africa were being punished with a ban. That upset victory over a vastly more experienced France began the All Black careers of Sean Fitzpatrick, John Kirwan, Mike Brewer, Andy Earl, Terry Wright and Joe Stanley.
That's also the fascination of sport – some of those originally unable to force their way into the top line-up often impress, once given a chance, and re-arrange rankings.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald has already spoken of the team's preparation for Covid-19 in this Super Rugby season and how he is convinced it will plumb the very depths of the squad.
Part of the problem with football is the length of the EPL season – nine months, giving clubs the opportunity to seek postponements, especially if they sniff a competitive advantage in doing so. Super Rugby is still long (three months) but no one has yet asked for a reschedule because some players were sick or injured, though Omicron could change that. Rugby's ethic is you go with what you've got.
Part of it, too, is the nature of football where players are happy to feign injuries during a match and employ histrionics to con the referee into free kicks or penalties. One of the funniest cartoons of the pandemic came from the genius who drew a footballer writhing on the ground, clutching his arm, mouth open in a silent scream – with a caption that read: "First professional footballer gets the vaccination".
Talking about dubious behaviour in the Premier League, what about the increasing tendency of clubs to sack managers – and re-hire them. This branch of lunacy has been happening for a while (like Jose Mourinho's sacking by Chelsea, only to re-hire The Special One six years later before sacking him again after two years).
The latest example is Everton seeking to re-employ Roberto Martinez, one of the coaches the club previously fired before hiring Rafa Benitez, himself now unemployed.
Maybe the world champion at this is the former Italian owner of Genoa FC, Enrico Preziosi, who – get this – hired coach Davide Ballardini four times over 11 years.
The closest we in New Zealand come to such oddities is the usual howls for the head of whichever All Blacks coach is in charge during a slump. Ian Foster may feel a bit exposed at present but he should take heart; he is only on Level 1 on the Ballardini scale.