Sports people weathering the coronavirus period

  • luke sport20MARCH
Harry Shapiro, a much-loved Joburg cricket coach, sees a silver lining in the dark cloud that is the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools throughout the country closing on Wednesday, Shapiro is already experiencing an upsurge in phone calls from parents asking if their sons can get one-on-one coaching in the now empty days before the end of the month.
by LUKE ALFRED | Mar 19, 2020

“I’m discovering that parents aren’t that worried about individual sessions,” says the Parkmore-based Shapiro, a coach who has been a feature of the Joburg scene for nearly 50 years. “Everyone, myself included, is staying away from groups and clinics, and I have just cancelled a trip to the Boland, but I’m seeing an increase in one-on ones.”

Shapiro’s attitude reminds us that behind the headlines invariably lies a human story. This is true in sport as it is in other walks of life, with South Africans relying upon their usual hardy ingenuity to make the best of a frightening and dynamic situation.

Shapiro’s commitment to hearing the richly re-assuring sound of bat on ball is all the more remarkable when one discovers that he turns 80 this coming Wednesday. He’s already cancelled his birthday luncheon scheduled for Sunday, not wanting to have friends and relatives around the same table, but he’s carrying on coaching the game he loves regardless.

“Look, one of the reasons I keep on working is that I have to work, even at my age,” he says wryly. “But, secondly, I love the work. I love spin bowling and working with kids, so I’m going to continue with individual sessions for the time being.”

Shapiro, who once opened the innings for a Transvaal Invitation XI with the inimitable curmudgeon, Geoffrey Boycott, is no different to many of us in that he’s adopting a prudent wait-and-see attitude in the coming weeks.

He’s not going to do anything stupid, but he believes that it’s economically and emotionally important to keep active, a simple human fact often lost in these hysterical times. “Unless things get a whole lot worse, I’m pretty much going to continue with coaching,” he says with mettle.

Maurice “Maish” Rosen faces an altogether different sporting problem. As a marathon and ultra-marathon athlete, the past week has concentrated the mind. As someone who was planning on running both the Two Oceans and the Comrades, Rosen’s options are either to keep on training in the hope that upcoming events continue, or to curtail his stints on the road in the knowledge that big events are likely to be postponed or cancelled entirely.

In the event, his hunches have been proved mostly right. He thought the Two Oceans marathon was going to be cancelled (it was cancelled on Sunday night), and he’s now cut back entirely on his training regime in expectation that the Comrades (scheduled for 14 June) will also be cancelled.

That hasn’t happened yet, with organisers saying that cancellation is premature. Matters, they say, will be monitored, and a decision on the race’s future will be made on or before 17 April.

For Rosen, though, the writing is on the Comrades wall. “It would be a miracle if it happened this year,” says the man who would have run in his 37th Comrades were it to go ahead. “There are 1 900 foreigners running Comrades, and they all need to get here,” he says. “All in all, there are 15 000 or 16 000 athletes. I’m absolutely sure it isn’t going to happen.”

Given that Rosen runs several times a week and combines those runs with two strenuous weekend training runs before Comrades, he’s probably going to get severe withdrawal as he cuts back on his exercise through March and April. This said, there’s his new grandson, the 10-month-old Logan, to think about, and Rosen would much rather play it safe and stay out of trouble. “I’m 66 – I’m not bulletproof – there’s a bigger picture to think about,” he says.

The organisers of the Comrades have been the exception to the norm in saying that it’s too early for blanket cancellations of a bedrock South African event that has a long and proud tradition. In so doing, they have attracted some negative comment, with participants arguing that their training regimes have been compromised, so even if the event does take place, many athletes won’t be as well-prepared for it as they should be.

Elsewhere in the country, organised sport has all but ceased. School closures mean that there are no bi-lateral sporting fixtures or sports meets.

The Premier Soccer League shut down its programme on Monday, with its board of directors discussing the way forward on Thursday as this newspaper was going to print.

Cricket has been similarly affected. The playoffs of the Momentum One-Day Cup were meant to be played this week, with the Proteas arriving back in the country after their cancelled three-match ODI series. A planned press conference to see in their safe return to the country was also canned.

The story is the same in Israel, with the cancellation of both the national basketball and football leagues until further notice, according to the Jerusalem Post.

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