By Hasna Choudhury, BSc Economics
On Monday 22 February, Boris Johnson announced his plans to gradually ease lockdown restrictions in England. Cases have steadily declined as millions of vaccines have been administered to the most vulnerable groups. In his speech, the Prime Minister confirmed his expectations of up to 10,000 spectators being allowed inside stadiums by 17 May – just in time for the final Premier League weekend.
Physical exercise is frequently promoted as part of a healthy lifestyle and its benefits are well established. Amidst the pandemic however, policymakers across the globe had several difficult decisions to make, restrictions on physical activity chief among them. The evidence linking physical activity with enhanced mental wellbeing is extensive, proving effective against depression and anxiety in children and adults alike. According to the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK, mental health problems account for the largest source of disability in the country – some 23%. However, endorphins – the feel-good chemicals released during exercise – do not discriminate. Studies show participating in regular physical activity can also help to boost self-esteem and increase quality of sleep.
Research exploring the perceived benefits of watching football has found it to be positively linked with stress relief and supporting good parent-child relationships. Among fellow supporters, it fosters a sense of comradery, with both players and fans often heard speaking in first-person pronouns in reference to their teams.
Cast your mind back to the summer of 2018: amidst scorching temperatures, millions of Brits packed into pubs and parks to watch England’s football club compete for the World Cup. Following a Cup drought spanning over half a century, Gareth Southgate’s youthful squad revived hopes in sporting spirits. Long after full-time whistles were blown, electric chants of ‘It’s coming home’ could be heard buzzing out of public squares and into private gardens. England made it so far as the semi-finals, eventually coming fourth after a crushing 2-1 defeat to Croatia. However, the despair that followed the knockout unified the nation. Even those who did not consider themselves football fanatics religiously tuned in on match days, believing England’s dreams of winning the Cup was well within grasp. Few sporting events have united the country since.
Last year, fans were left frustrated after Premier League games were suspended mid-season due to the coronavirus outbreak. The 2020 Olympics and Euro 2020 were similarly postponed. But fans were not the only ones missing out. Unbeknownst to what was to come, the Amazon Prime Video documentary All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspurs chronicled the 2019-20 season, showcasing behind-the-scenes footage of the North London club. As events unfolded, Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, was seen to be visibly concerned about the impact of empty stadiums on team performance and the club’s financial accounts. Since then, major sporting events across the globe have largely continued to take place behind closed doors, and its impact has been felt both financially and on a personal level.
The latest government guidelines have undoubtedly gratified fans and sportsmen alike. Britain is already set to host the semi-final and finals of the Euro 2020 at the iconic Wembley stadium. Though the prospect of a 90,000-capacity crowd remains unlikely, this is otherwise good news for the economy and its people. With the UK leading its European counterparts in the rollout of vaccines, there is a real possibility of the tournament being hosted on British soil altogether. As plans continue to unfold, this is likely the first of many live sporting events to look forward to in the year to come. And for the British people, it may be coming home indeed – in more ways than one.
Photo caption: An empty Wembley Stadium. (Credit: Shelley & Dave via Creative Commons)