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COVID-19: A World Without Sport Podcast

Vince Lara of the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois speaks with Mike Raycraft and Jon Welty Peachey of the Recreation, Sport and Tourism department, about a world without sports, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Click here to see the full transcript.

VINCE LARA: Hi, and welcome to another edition of A Few Minutes With, the podcast that showcases Illinois's College of Applied Health Sciences. I'm Vince Lara. And today I'm speaking with Mike Raycraft and Jon Welty Peachey, professors in the Department of Recreation, Sport, and Tourism, to talk about the impact of a world without sport during the coronavirus outbreak.

All right. Jon Welty Peachey and Mike Raycraft are with me from Recreation, Sport, and Tourism. And we're talking about the state of affairs due to the coronavirus, novel coronavirus, and how it's impacting our world in terms of, this is the first time all three of us have been through work stoppages in all the sports. But this is the first time on a global scale where we've had no sports activity.

And I'm wondering, Jon, I'll start with you on this, because you've worked on sport development and how it impacts countries. For you, can you tell us what kind of impact a world without sport has on-- let's even start with a really low, ground-level community, and then a city-state, and even a country.

JON WELTY PEACHEY: Sure. And besides the economic impact, which is certainly huge, one of the things that's happened is, I like to think of it as we-- in communities, we have what's called a "third space." We have home, we have work. And those are places that we spend a lot of time.

But we also need what are called "third spaces" or "third places." And these are venues, places we go where we experience community, where we are social with others, where we bond, where we relax social norms in some ways, make connections. And we're in an age right now where we don't have these third places.

And sport provides those third places in many respects-- when you think of the venues, the arenas, the stadiums, going to the local pub to watch the game, gathering at somebody's house to watch the game. So right now we're socially distancing. And we're taking away these third spaces, these places, which I think is going to have some profound impact in terms of how people at the local level can experience community. Maybe some creative ways will emerge to do that.

I think there's going to be impact broader, at the national, at the international levels, when you think about how sport has played a role in building community and bringing together disparate others from various backgrounds. And we don't have that right now. Hopefully, we will again in the future. But we've removed that context at the present moment.

So I think the impact is going to be profound when you think about the social adjustments that we're going to need to make in the very near future. My hope is that we come up with some creative ways, that we haven't thought about yet, to perhaps provide that connection, whether it's through sports or other types of leisure services that can still help people experience those third places which are so vital for us.

VINCE LARA: Jon, let me ask you another question. Do you think that if the sports leagues had decided to play without fans, there'd still be that element of-- people would still be able to plug in, even without being able to attend?

JON WELTY PEACHEY: Well, I think so. But I'm not sure that that would have been the right thing to do, when you think about where we are right now, and the fact that we have athletes and coaches testing positive for the virus. You know, when we think of the broader picture, what I think we need to do to really help society deal with this pandemic, should we continue to provide that content and expose our athletes, and coaches, and referees, and trainers and such to potential long-term effects of the virus?

I'm not sure it would be worth it. Even though we're missing this social element, I think we have to think about the greater good in some ways, and the health of the athletes, the coaches, and the staff that would still have to be involved and be in the stadiums and the arenas.

VINCE LARA: I wonder where-- and either of you can answer this. What do you think of the IOC deciding not yet to pull the plug on the Olympics?

JON WELTY PEACHEY: I can leap in there again. And Mike can certainly fill in, too. But personally, I question that a little bit. I know why they're hesitating, simply because of the magnitude of the scale of that decision. But one of the things that it does, though, is when you think about-- where are the athletes training now, and how are they training?

And are we saying that we don't care about their health right now? So essentially, if an athlete has been training all these years, and the Olympic games are still on, they still have to somehow keep that level of fitness and on-point readiness with their sport. And how are they going to do that and not be at risk?

So where do they train? How do they train? I think there's a lot of questions there. So we're saying, yeah, we're going to still do the event, but you need to go on training as you normally would to be able to qualify and such. So I'm not sure I agree with that personally, when you look at the greater good.

And as well, all the other events that have canceled, not just in sport, but across the board, and concerts, and music festivals, and all of the really social places and events, big events that are postponing. I'm not sure about that decision. I'd be interested in Mike's thoughts on that as well.

MIKE RAYCRAFT: Well, I was chatting the other day with a colleague of mine that was an Olympic athlete in 1980 on the US Olympic team. And so the president for the plug being pulled is there. And we talked about it, and here we are 40 years later.

And looking back, I think, you know, it was kind of agreed that was the right decision, that sometimes things are just bigger than a sport event. This is one of those.

VINCE LARA: Let me ask you-- what do you guys think-- is there a different impact depending on size of country when these events are canceled? In other words, the Olympics canceled in the United States, it's certainly a big event here. But it's not as big as it is in another country.

So does the cancellation depend on scale of country or importance?

MIKE RAYCRAFT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the United States has got-- with a high-end college and professional sports, they can focus on that. Or you get this in smaller countries around the world-- the Olympics is the whole party. It's their opportunity to compete on a national stage.

So yeah, I think it's a bigger deal in other places. It's a big deal here, too. But, you know, we have alternatives that other countries don't.

JON WELTY PEACHEY: Yeah, I agree. I agree with Mike. You know, I think it is scalable. I think the impact, certainly for certain countries, as Mike said, you're gearing up for an event where you do have perhaps a little bit of prominence. You excel in a certain sport or activity. And it provides that national identity. It provides that rallying point for citizens in a country and such.

So to remove that, I think the effect would be more pronounced for certain countries, whether it's based on size, or based on how sports has been developed in that country. We have some countries that might be large in size but still, sports is not as developed as it is here in the United States.

So yeah, the impacts are going to really vary by a lot of different factors, I think, for nations here. But really, I think, we have to do what's right, and think about we're all in this together in many ways. And we don't want to think that, I think, one event, such as the Olympic games, is more important than the health of the world. And I think that's a very myopic view, to have that.

So perhaps we'll still be able to host it in some modified fashion, based on how things go the next month or two. But I think we have to think about the greater good. And I hope our sport executives and those making decisions will do that, will keep the greater good of society in mind.

MIKE RAYCRAFT: One of the things that's come up in my classes last week was a conversation about the Olympics, and how the future could be where it goes to having just from one host city to make it a worldwide event, where you host in wrestling one place, track and field one place, basketball one place, and kind of divide it up instead of having it in one host area. Which was interesting, because it seemed that it would provide more people the opportunity to go to live events. It would maybe help out in terms of security and whatnot.

And it kind of makes me think sometimes, is this the type of thing which could maybe trigger that type of a thought, where it's a worldwide games where it's spread out? Or one city isn't taking all the expense and all the heat. You could spread her out across the globe.

VINCE LARA: You know, economically, obviously is the biggest hit that a world without sport delivers. But does it deliver a bigger hit to us psychologically or physiologically?

JON WELTY PEACHEY: Yeah, it's a great question. And I think both. I'm not sure you can get into degrees. I think psychologically, it is very, very important, and when you think of the identity that many of us have with regards to sport-- and not just athletes, but fans, and highly identified individuals, and those that work in the industry. When we have something removed from us that we're so invested in, whatever that might be, that can lead to a lot of psychological challenges for people, from depression, to lethargy, to all kinds of things.

And I think we're going to have to find ways to help people in this time think about, where do we get our identity from? And so you think of athletes that are so identified with their sport. And that's all we have ever known and done. And then all of a sudden, in a matter of an hour your season's over. Or these decisions are made that take away what you do.

If you're so invested and identified in that sport that you have basically nothing else, I think that's where the psychological impact is going to be, in my view, really pronounced, that I think we're going to have a role for sports psychologists and other health care professionals and mental health professionals in the coming days to reach out and to help those that are really affected by this-- and I'm talking athletes here right now-- to provide some services, to really help them get through this. I think that's going to be vital and important.

MIKE RAYCRAFT: One of the things that I've seen that I think is interesting is with youth, especially. Kids say under 20, esports, and online gaming, and whatnot has helped them a lot in terms of connecting. And the kids are able to play and be together that way and connect. Or I don't think the younger generation is going to be as impacted, perhaps, as 20s, 25 on up. They're finding an outlet.

And then that makes you wonder, hey, where does that go? And how does that impact kind of the role of e-gaming and esports in the next five years?

VINCE LARA: Jon, in terms of youth sport networks, since you deal a lot with this, and the construction of them, how long does a youth sport network have to wait to restart based on what the major league sports do? In other words, if baseball restarts in June, do Little Leagues, let's say, they don't start till July to make sure?

JON WELTY PEACHEY: Yeah, that's a really good question. I think I'd like to see that there would be some pause, there would be some gap, or some time that we do wait. Particularly, when you think about children, and youth, and being in these spaces right now, I don't think it's imperative that it's all aligned, that Little League must start, say if MLB goes back, or when the season might start, that that's all aligned so much.

Again, I think we have to think bigger than that, and think really about the welfare, and safety, and the health of the kids and the youth. You know, if there is a little bit of a delay as we see-- you know, as the CDC is saying, there could be multiple waves of this virus that kind of peaks and goes down, and then comes up and there's-- we want to be certain that we're not exposing children and youth too early again.

So I don't want to think we have to rush to go back to starting these leagues up again. Let's be sure. And go by followwhat's recommended by the CDC and other health bodies, not being so concerned that we have to align, say, with when the Major Leagues start, but really reflecting on what's best for the population that we're serving.

VINCE LARA: What kind of a role can a youth sports coach take in this time? Is it merely outreach? You know, do they send out emails to parents? Or do they just back off?

JON WELTY PEACHEY: No, I think they do need to be-- not aggressive, but they do need to stay involved. Because there's so much connection that the kids and parents have invested in their youth sport- time in the league. Because I'd be interested in Mike's take on this as well.

I think, you know, we don't want to send too much information. But we certainly want to be in touch, to express that we still have this community. Maybe there's some creative blogs and some ways that some online connections can happen that leagues can implement, so that folks can stay in touch. Or maybe there's some virtual gaming that can happen between and with teams, or ways that that sense of community that, this can continue to go on during this time.

You know, if kids are stuck at home. And so maybe leagues can see their role as trying to help create some spaces for their youth, for their children to continue to interact. Although it might have to be looked at differently right now. But I think those would be some ways that they can continue that connection point for them.

MIKE RAYCRAFT: One thing you've seen this week online are a lot of entertainment people doing musical concerts out of their living room. I watched one an hour ago with Brian Wilson. And frankly, it could be-- from a marketing sense, it could be an opportunity for professional sports, athletes to market themselves to youth, in terms of, hey, we're home. Your home here. Let's connect. And today we're going to do a session on understanding the fundamentals of baseball or whatnot.

You know, one of the audiences where I think pro sports have had a tough time in recent generations, that's connecting with young people. It's so expensive and whatnot. This could be their opportunity to connect and find new ways for kids to build bonds with their teams.

VINCE LARA: You know, one thing that this period, guys, of no sports has made me think about is, what would have been the impact of not having sports on our world? I mean, our vocabulary would be different. I was joking with Mike before we started recording about, how many cliches we use in everyday life.

Turnaround victory for a politician. A clutch comeback by Biden. You know, there's so many things that sort of seep into everyday life. And for you-- for both of you-- how do you think life would be different if we didn't have this infrastructure of sport?

MIKE RAYCRAFT: You know, to go back to what Jon said earlier about third space, I don't think that's going to-- there's always going to be a need for that, a connection. And so I don't think that's-- I cannot imagine a world like that, because I don't think we're really built like that as human beings.

We need-- there's always that connection point. And we teach in RST of the whole leisure connection in terms of what is it that brings us all together. And what brings us all together is this is this drive to the third space, and what is this that motivates us.

So sports will always exist. Is it going to change and evolve? Yeah, it sure is. And just like we evolved after 9/11 in terms of how we look at spaces, and security, and travel, and whatnot. You know, we're going to look at the world differently after this, too. And that's not all bad, for sure.

JON WELTY PEACHEY: I agree with Mike. And I don't know if we could ever have a world without sport and play. And if you look at the history of sport or play, which sport really is, and you'll see that in every culture and every country, there is sport, and there is play. There's not one culture that does not have it in one form or the other. It manifests differently, of course, with different types of play and sport.

But even in caveman times, there was play. There was this is element.

MIKE RAYCRAFT: I mean, you might see more of a growth and more of a prominence of individual sports or routine sports. That could be. That could be.

JON WELTY PEACHEY: Yeah. And I was out running this morning. And I think I saw more people outside than I ever remember on my running route. Because this is one space we can go right now.

But it's an interesting question, Vince. Our answers aren't great. But that's because I think we're having a hard time conceptualizing--

MIKE RAYCRAFT: Yeah, agreed.

JON WELTY PEACHEY: --a world without sport and play, and how that could come about. But certainly, if we didn't have that there'd be a huge void. But there has to be some third place. I mean, there has to be these activities that provide meaning socially and such beyond the homes and beyond the work. And if you don't have that, I don't think we really have society in many ways.

So we have to creatively now continue to think about, how do we provide these spaces, whether it's in RST, in sport, or entertainment, a variety of ways we continue to offer these spaces for people. Because it's fundamental to society.

VINCE LARA: That's a good point to jump to. Something that Mike and I talked about before we started recording, Mike, which was, you thought that there was a possibility of bringing about some kind of positive societal change. And I'm wondering if you would expound on that.

MIKE RAYCRAFT: Well, I think there is possible societal change in that we're having the opportunity to spend some time at home with our families, and to rediscover some things that are fundamental to the human experience that maybe we've ignored, to bond and to make those connections. something And so-- to read, to clean out your garage, maybe? To do things that are positive, and, frankly, to reassess.

You know, I stopped playing the piano 20 years ago because I got busy. Well, I can perhaps rediscover talents and interests that, you know, I haven't really touched on in 20 years. And so I don't think that's all bad. I think we all walk out of this experience changed. And certainly, it's, again, it's not all bad.

VINCE LARA: Jon, I'm imagining you have similar feelings.

JON WELTY PEACHEY: Sure, I do. I agree totally with Mike. Just reflecting on the past couple of days for our family, and I'm exactly being able to re-establish or connect a little bit away from the frenzied life that we probably all feel like we're normally in. And I think there are some ways that maybe this, when things get back to normal-- whatever that normal might be-- that we have emerged changed.

Or maybe we value things a little differently. We value family more, which would be a positive change. We value relationships. You know the old saying, you don't know that you really value something till you don't have it, till you miss it. And, you know, and maybe we're going to re-evaluate, hopefully, the importance of people in our lives, not take people for granted.

I think there could be a lot of positive that comes out of this. And so I think that's a hopeful thing.

MIKE RAYCRAFT: Yeah, I'd be very curious to see what happens on campus in the fall. Because I don't think a lot of the undergraduates really understood what was going on. They have a tendency to live in their own world, and all of a sudden this whole thing kind of-- the road got ripped up underneath them. And mom comes with the station wagon to pick up the bedding in the dorm, and we're going home.

And they have five months to kind of assess what life is away from campus, and what value those campus life, and campus connections, and those relationships, and the scholarly part, et cetera, all have. So I think they'll come back in the fall tremendously engaged, and tremendously excited to be back and part of the campus, and anxious to connect with people, probably be tired of talking on the phone and FaceTiming. And maybe we can get away from screens and then connect face-to-face.

VINCE LARA: You know, in closing I just want to ask you both about-- you both will have students who have internships this summer in industries that are really affected-- well, everything is affected but-- are affected by this coronavirus crisis. And what kind of advice do you have for them?

Mike, you and I talked about it. So why don't you answer that first?

MIKE RAYCRAFT: Well, I would say first and foremost, the University Illinois and Department of Rec, Sport, Tourism is going to do everything they possibly can to ensure that the students have a good experience, a meaningful experience, and will graduate on time according to their pace. Or in terms of working with the organizations, we have students that go out in all types of industries, sport being obviously a big part of them.

We're waiting right now, I think, in terms of what does that look like, what does the experience look like. It's a little bit early to tell for some. I know we've got some kids that are out now and doing spring internships. And a lot of them are doing exactly what we are. They're continuing to work and contribute from their apartments, their homes, et cetera, a different way.

And so they're certainly going to be learning. It's very, very interesting time to be out on your internships for sure, because you entered one world, and you walked out of another one.

JON WELTY PEACHEY: Yeah. And I think there's certainly going to be an impact, too, on if we think about, say, sport or RST, which is-- certainly recreation, tourism, and sport have all been affected by this, but in terms of employment, and when and how organizations are going to be hiring, and what that means for our graduates, and how will job roles change, will there be more virtual options now for our graduates to come in on front line positions?

And so it is going to be interesting to see how that evolves a bit, and what the supply/demand is as we move forward a little bit. So I think I'm hopeful. But I think we're-- I come back to, we have to think outside the box and really be creative in terms of how we provide internships, what the nature of our job roles are, and how those may need to be redefined for the foreseeable future.

So that can be positive, too, in terms of changing how we do business. And it might be a time when businesses do reflect on how we engage with things, how we put on our product, how we stage our events. So we could emerge from this stronger, to put a positive spin on it.

MIKE RAYCRAFT: I agree with that. It's certainly a great time to be creative. My advice to my students is to keep up, to read, to follow the news, to follow what's going on in sport and related industries, and reflect on it a bit, and reassess and come, determine what role can they have. It's kind of a new insight, new perspectives, because the whole industry is going to change. And frankly, they could be in front of it.

VINCE LARA: My thanks to Mike Raycraft and Jon Welty Peachey. For more podcasts on Illinois' College of Applied Health Sciences, search "A Few Minutes With" on iTunes, Spotify, iHeart Radio,, and other places you get your podcast fix. Thanks for listening, and see you next time.


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