HomeCoronavirusSporting silence in the Covid-19 era – a photographer's view | Ryan...

Sporting silence in the Covid-19 era – a photographer’s view | Ryan Pierse

It just wasn’t right. It was a Thursday night in mid-March. A sterile rendition of Yellow And Black echoed around an empty Melbourne Cricket Ground and through my television speakers as I settled in to watch the opening match of the 2020 AFL premiership season. 

This now traditional season opener would normally draw a crowd of 80,000 sport loving Melburnians, hungry for the first blood of a new campaign. Not so this year. The Covid-19 pandemic forced all sporting events in Australia to be cancelled or held behind closed doors to adhere to social distancing regulations. 

Listening to the players’ voices reverberate off 100,000 empty plastic seats was eerie and unnatural. It just wasn’t right. It had to stop. At the end of that weekend it did. The NRL followed suit soon after and the noise and energy of sport was muted. 

Australians were, in a way, lucky that sport continued even for that short period and provided a distraction from the pandemic-related headlines dominating minds. Most other countries had already suspended or cancelled their sporting events. But it became rapidly clear, despite various leagues’ best intentions, this was not a time for sport. 

An aerial view of an empty Sydney Cricket Ground on 22 April, 2020.

For Australians, sport is more than a game. It’s a religion. It’s an opportunity to become fiercely tribal for a few hours at the end of a tough week. It’s vital to our psyche. As a sports photojournalist, I live and breathe sport. It’s my job, but I’m invested in it personally too. 

It’s controversial, but as someone who spends months on the road each year covering sporting assignments, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed this slice of sporting silence and the opportunity it has provided to reflect and miss it. This has been a time to reconnect with family. A time to really get to know your kids. A time to communicate in different ways with your closest friends. A time to dust off old hobbies and passions. A time to sob over a silly show on Netflix. Downtime to stop and think about what is really important. 

Dylan Walker of the Sea Eagles runs out onto the field during the round three NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Central Coast Stadium on May 31, 2020 in Gosford, Australia.

While we were not quenching the public’s thirst for live sport, we documented a narrative of the Australian sporting landscape that we have never had the chance to see. Our Getty Images team has spent the last few months capturing how our sporting heroes coped with this downtime. 

For athletes, their main job has been to remain in form and at peak fitness, both physically and mentally. They need to be ready whenever their sport is given the green light to resume. Even for those whose Olympic dreams have been put on ice for another lap around the sun, their steely focus remains. With their usual training venues shut, many resorted to makeshift home setups to maintain their fitness. 

Olympic Canoeist Jess Fox Training in Isolation.

In the extreme case of Olympic canoe slalom athlete Jess Fox, she continued to keep her golden hopes afloat by paddling up and down her small backyard pool in suburban western Sydney. 

Bronte Campbell Trains In Isolation.

Olympic swimmer Bronte Campbell enjoyed her new Bondi apartment with daily sunrise yoga and a fitness session on her rooftop, followed by Zoom exercise bike sessions with her swim team, including her sister Cate. Let me tell you, sibling rivalry still exists even over a bad iPhone connection! 

Australian breaststroke swimmer Matt Wilson trains at his home

GWS Giants AFL player Tim Taranto trains in isolation at his home in Sydney.

For some, lockdown has been a chance to slow down. Someone who is always performing at an express pace, Australian cricket’s golden boy Pat Cummins, shifted down a few gears and spent the entire period on his rural property in the Southern Highlands, south of Sydney. I spent a relaxing morning down there, photographing him doing a little bit of training but mostly hanging out with his fiance Becky, their dog Norman and six of their cows (didn’t catch their names). 

Australian Cricketer Pat Cummins poses while in isolation at his property in the NSW Southern Highlands.

Australian Cricketer Pat Cummins, his fiance Becky Boston and their dog Norman ride on their farm buggy while in isolation at their property.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity, along with my Getty Images colleague and friend Cameron Spencer, to spend an afternoon at the peak of lockdown buzzing high above Sydney in a helicopter.

We documented how the emerald city looks from above, minus the throngs of tourists, the gridlocked traffic and the packed beaches. Hovering above the Sydney Cricket Ground as it was being well watered gave me a reassuring calmness and a sprinkle of hope that action on the famous turf may not be too far away. 

Bronte Ocean Pool.

As we start to imagine a world beyond isolation, it’s important to note that sport was never truly silenced – neither for the athletes nor the Australians who cheer them on. For the health of sporting bodies, sponsors and most importantly the athletes themselves, the media must continue to play their part in keeping sport front of mind with the Australian public during the slow return to normalcy. We need to keep telling the stories that can inspire all Australians during these challenging times. 

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