The Show Must Not Go On
Possessed by the way Paris-Nice monopolised sports news early in the coronavirus era—no soccer, baseball, or basketball to be found on television or in newspapers, no ice hockey, no tennis or horse racing either, nothing except the peloton plodding south—some people are close to feverish for a second dose.
Sure, the Tokyo Olympics won’t be held as scheduled, these people admit, nor will Wimbledon tennis or Champions League soccer. Why should that affect the Tour de France? And if they do, why rush to decide? The Tour isn’t listed to start until June 27.
“It is still too early to decide,” the French sports minister, Roxana Maracineanu, said late in March. “We are studying every scenario and are working with ASO,” the Amaury Sport Organization, the Tour’s owners. ASO has promised a decision by mid-May.
Maracineanu has even offered an alternative to the familiar sprawling Tour with its roads and hillsides blanketed by millions of spectators: “a race behind closed doors.”
Some obvious questions: First, how do the doors get closed? Paris-Nice limited spectators at start and finish areas, but allowed access along the sparsely attended route. For safety’s sake, gendarmes patrolled automobile crossing points. The Tour employs thousands of these gendarmes, i.e. a crowd in a social distancing world. And they will be needed even in a ‘closed-door’ Tour. Who will control the usual zanies who run alongside the riders, thump them, and enlist them for a selfie?
Further, with his usual disdain for anybody’s comfort except his own, the average Frenchman is unlikely to stand six feet apart from his neighbour on a road up the Alps or into a town.
Another major question concerns rider safety, of course. Can the riders be protected against contamination in their staging areas, hotels, and restaurants, even feed zones?
What if a rider arrives with an early and undetected case of the virus? To ask is to answer.
Why, finally, is the status of the Tour de France still open for discussion? The shameful answer is money.
As the sports minister points out, the Tour’s revenue derives not from ticket sales but from television advertising. ASO will fight tooth and nail not to lose that advertising. It’s a big business, after all, and it dreams of big business as usual even in unusual times.
But let’s not mock only ASO. That French vice, avarice, is widespread, as VeloNews reflected in quoting a local official.
“Our restaurateurs, our hoteliers, and our tenants are enduring complicated times, and they see the Tour as a good way to get their heads above water,” said Stéphane Villain, deputy mayor of Châtelaillon-Plage, which hosts the start of the 11th stage. “Normally, our summer season begins on July 15. Thanks to the Tour, it would start earlier. This would greatly help our local businesses.”
Villain indeed. In name and sentiment.
Cover Photo: Chris Auld