As allegories go, it’s nigh on perfect.
A football team socially distances from their opponent, as they fear catching coronavirus. Their rivals interpret the rules altogether differently and, with wild abandon, hit the net every two-and-a-half minutes.
Final score: 37-0.
Already a viral sensation, the game between amateur German sides SV Holdenstedt II and SG Ripdorf/Molzen II can be written into folklore as a symbol for our Covid age. For coronavirus has divided us roughly into two camps, like opposing teams on a football field. We now know that, during a global pandemic, some will fret and withdraw from the world – stay home, stick to scientific advice, save lives. And others will assert their individuality, cling to their freedom – live and let die.
A tale of two teams...
This shaggy sporting tale came to pass after Holdenstedt faced a team that featured a player infected with Covid-19. Though the entire Holdenstedt squad tested negative for the virus, Ripdorf, their next opponent (and local rival), still felt unsafe. The fixture was within 14-days of Holdenstedt’s squad coming into contact with the infected player.
Ripdorf’s co-chair Patrick Ristow later explained: “We tried to postpone the match, but Holdenstedt wanted to play.” And that meant Ripdorf had a decision to make: play the game, or fail to turn up and face a €200 penalty, as per the 11th tier league's rules. "That's a lot of money for us,” Ristow said, “especially amid the pandemic.”
Cut to the game itself. Ripdorf lined up with seven players – the minimum required for the football match to go ahead.
As it turned out, Holdenstedt's first team didn’t even feature; the XI was instead made up of second-string players. Nonetheless, safety-first Ripdorf kicked off by passing the ball to Holdenstedt and then immediately retreating to the sidelines. Inevitably, this gifted Holdenstedt a goal in the first minute. The match referee, clearly bewildered, duly booked Ripdorf’s captain for unsporting behaviour.
Presumably fearing a succession of cards, followed by another league-imposed fine, Ripdorf’s players returned to the pitch. But, as the scoreline implies, to call the contest closely-fought would be incorrect. “They did not go into direct duels and observed the social distancing rules,” said Ristow, “keeping two metres between them and Holdenstedt players.”
That's right: they played one-sided socially distanced football.
... and two different views of the world
Ristow described the epic loss, amid Covid uncertainty, “a catch 22”, and insisted his team “wished Holdenstedt no harm.” Holdenstedt’s coach, Florian Shierwater, meanwhile told Altmark Zeitung there was “no basis to call off the match.” Given the goal difference of minus 37, it would seem there was also no mercy.
So there it is. The pandemic parable. Two sides, two very different outlooks.
Spare a thought for Covid Rule-takers United. They’re terrified – and rightly so, they say, haven’t you been watching the news? Sure, they’ll go back to the office (or play a farcical football match) if they have to, but only as they also fear financial oblivion.
Much like a footballer dodging an airborne virus, they’ll find pockets of space, keep their head up and avoid all unnecessary contact. Remember, they mean you no harm. In fact, their sacrifice is for you.
Covid Libertarians FC, on the other hand, play a whole other sport. Their only sacrifice is complying with face mask laws. And, even then, it’s to access whatever shop/restaurant/leisure activity they’d like to invest their hard-earned cash in. Why should they shun society – deny life – when the rules permit pubs to open?
Speaking of which, they wonder why rule-takers’ ‘sacrifice’ can’t be committed to the Great British economy, not Netflix-fuelled hibernation. Eat Out to Help Out? Do it on your own dime this winter, they say – not the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s.
And as for the government’s role in all this? You guessed it: bewildered referee. Unsure what’s unfolding before their eyes, they start making up rules on the half-turn. First officials insist the game goes ahead, then they point to the spot for mind-boggling offences. Don’t argue (or cry hypocrisy), it’s a penalty. Yellow card!
Regardless of which team you support, SV Holdenstedt II vs SG Ripdorf/Molzen II is a fixture we can all get used to – this season and beyond. In the meantime, there’s one clear and obvious way to settle the debate. Who’s for a game of socially distanced football?