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Air travel will get costlier, and more time-consuming. Movie theatres will have blockbusters again, and little else. It will be a boom time for esports, but not for major leagues or the Olympics. These are just some of the ways observers, artists and critics predict our lives will change

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Illustration by Murat Yükselir

How the pandemic will change ...TravelFashionArtsSports

About this series: For its May 16 issue, The Globe and Mail assembled a newspaper-wide list of ways COVID-19 and its aftereffects will transform society. This is one of three parts of that series: The others focus on business and national, urban and foreign affairs. Learn more at our Ø Canada Project about how this country is working toward a coronavirus-free future.


The days of cheap flights are over ...

by Eric Atkins

Air travel is awful; air travel is awesome. The COVID-19 pandemic won’t change that. If anything, the annoyances and thrills of going places by plane will be amplified when governments lift travel restrictions and we inch toward the way things used to be.

But the days of cheap plane tickets are over. Wave bye to the $69 ticket to Las Vegas. Farewell to the $31 Abbotsford-Edmonton jaunt. Seat sales have gone the way of the handshake and the peck on the cheek.

That’s because the steps airlines will be forced to take to prevent the spread of the deadly virus – either by regulation or to attract fearful customers – will be expensive and time consuming.

The need to physically distance passengers will mean airlines will have to leave some seats empty – some are already eliminating middle seats in banks of three, or alternating seats in longer rows. Changes like that, on top of costly measures that may include temperature checks, spaced-out lineups and the need to disinfect plane interiors, will devastate airlines’ profitability, industry observers say.

“There is a cost to all of that,” said John Gradek, who teaches aviation at McGill University.

The discount airlines that have popped up in the past decade like to call themselves ultralow-cost carriers. In Canada, WestJet’s Swoop, Flair and Air Canada’s Rouge modelled themselves after global discounters Southwest Airlines, EasyJet and Ryanair.

But the low costs are theirs, not just the customers’. They fly densely packed planes and charge for every bag and snack. The same plane can fly several routes a day, disgorging passengers and loading up again quickly to limit gate fees.

To keep fares down, the low-cost airline business model relies on planes that are 85- or 90-per-cent full. Removing the middle seat drops this figure to about 65 per cent. (The average break-even mark for all types of airlines is 77 per cent.)

“They need full airplanes to make it work,” Mr. Gradek said. “Given the fares that they are charging, that’s how many people they need on the airplane. But you’re going to be coming up against social distancing and hygiene [rules] that will prevent you from running airplanes with those load factors. The era of cheap fares is over.”

Discounters will be among the airlines that won’t return after the crisis wanes, industry observers agree. Those that remain will be forced to charge more to cover the high cost of physical distancing at 30,000 feet.

The International Air Transport Association, which represents 290 airlines, argues that empty seats aren’t the best way to limit the spread of COVID-19. Airlines with fewer seats will be forced to raise air fares by between 43 and 54 per cent, depending on the region, according to its estimates. In any case, a vacant 50-centimetre-wide seat does not meet physical-distancing guidelines, says Alexandre de Juniac, head of IATA. Instead of distancing, the IATA proposes focusing on masks as a way to reduce the risk of transmission.

“Airlines are fighting for their survival,” he said. “Eliminating the middle seat will raise costs. If that can be offset with higher fares, the era of affordable travel will come to an end. On the other hand, if airlines can’t recoup the costs in higher fares, airlines will go bust. Neither is a good option when the world will need strong connectivity to help kick-start the recovery from COVID-19’s economic devastation.”

Air Canada, WestJet Airlines and Delta Air Lines have said they will leave adjacent seats empty, amid speculation some governments will require it.

Other changes to the way people fly include mandatory face masks for passengers and flight attendants (Air Canada, WestJet and Flair now require them for all flights), longer waits for health screening and plane disinfecting and, in Air Canada’s case, passenger temperature checks. On-board, there will be less food service to limit contact between cabin crews and customers.

These features of air travel are here for the foreseeable future, in the same way the post-9/11 carry-on liquid limits and shoe removal at check-ins persisted.

Still, Michael O’Leary, chief executive officer of the Irish discount airline Ryanair, told the Financial Times in April that airlines may not be able – or willing – to adopt changes without government assistance. Ryanair won’t make money if it can’t fill its planes, he said, and if Irish regulators impose rules that limit passenger loads, the government will have to pay for empty seats. “We won’t fly,” he said.

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A security officer takes a woman's temperature at Dubai International Airport.Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters/Reuters

... and we’re going to stand in airport lines longer

by Paul Waldie

Four-hour line ups, blood tests and mandatory face masks. Get ready for what the future of airport screening could soon look like.

Getting through airports was already a hassle before COVID-19 but what’s in store next could make travel even more frustrating. Boarding airplanes could take hours as passengers stand two metres apart – some experts have suggested that travellers will have to show up at least four hours before take off. Several airports are also considering using text messages to call passengers to gates in order to avoid overcrowding. Wearing a mask during flights is likely to be mandatory.

Airports such as Heathrow in London are already installing high-tech screening technology, including facial-recognition cameras with heat-seeking capabilities to spot travellers who have COVID-19 symptoms. But some airlines and airports have gone much farther.

Emirates airline has started carrying out blood tests on passengers boarding flights in Dubai. The airline is using a system that can determine within 10 minutes whether a traveller has antibodies or proteins that signal exposure to the new coronavirus. Transport officials in Thailand are demanding that passengers carry health certificates with lab results completed within 72 hours of flying to prove they pose no risk to the public. Travellers must also have enough insurance to cover US$100,000 worth of medical expenses.

Carry-on luggage is also likely to be eliminated or drastically curtailed to stop people reaching over each other, and don’t count on much in-flight service such as snacks or booze. The operator of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi has also installed “disinfectant tunnels” in walkways to aircraft where luggage is “sani-tagged” after being cleansed with ultraviolent light.

The new world of air travel isn’t all bleak. Some of the changes could actually make things easier. New “contact-less” screening technology could speed up security and eliminate the need to haul out laptops and liquids. But don’t expect things to return to pre-COVID days any time soon. “Even if it starts raining vaccines tonight, we are still looking at two years at least to get back to levels seen before the outbreak, and it is probably going to be more like five years,” Andrew Charlton, managing director of the consultancy Aviation Advocacy, recently told the Times newspaper.

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Nova Scotia's Cabot Trail, shown in 1956, is one of the many road-trip attractions Canadians could see more often in a post-pandemic world.James Simpson / The Globe and Mail/For The Globe and Mail

Canadians will take to the roads

by Maryam Siddiqi

A couple weeks ago, my sister and I headed 50 minutes west of Toronto to a nursery to get some plants for her patio. Our other option was a nursery 30 minutes to the east, but we had time (obviously), and I had been told of a cidery offering curbside pickup near the nursery to the west so we took the longer route and made a half-day of it.

It was the first time in two months either of us had been out of our respective neighbourhoods (we’re in each other’s bubbles and I’m grateful she has a car). We headed to the Gardiner Expressway and coasted on the highway along the shore of Lake Ontario. The water shimmered, music played and, despite Google Maps being open on my phone, we got lost on our way.

Pre-COVID-19, this would have been a humdrum errand to the suburbs, getting lost an irritating mistake. But now? It had all the markings of a classic road trip – the go-to mode of escape for the foreseeable future.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization forecasts international travel falling by as much as 78 per cent this year (its optimistic outlook: a decline of 58 per cent). In a virtual press conference on May 11, Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, said, “our biggest challenge within the travel industry is getting people comfortable on flights again. Something we took for granted before was the freedom to travel. We could travel anywhere we wanted in the world as long as we paid the ticket.”

And although there may be nerves about getting on a plane, fears about being away from home with an unfamiliar medical system, or questions of borders being open, many of us will still want to scratch that itch to get away – an itch that’s likely deeper than ever as evidenced by a recent survey from travel research firm Skift which showed that one third of Americans are keen to travel within three months of restrictions being lifted.

Because just a few months ago the world was our oyster, it may seem limiting that all we have right now are road trips, but in some ways the travel and hospitality industries were already moving toward this mode of holiday as the preferred getaway.

For the past couple years, motels have been making headlines as older properties are revamped into new, design-forward (and Instagram-friendly) accommodations. Think of the Drake Motor Inn and June Motel in Ontario’s Prince Edward County and Hotel Zed in Victoria and Kelowna, B.C. Most have private entrances, so there’s no need to trek through communal spaces, such as lobbies, to get to one’s room. And many guest rooms are equipped with kitchen facilities of some sort, minimizing the need to gather with strangers in restaurants.

At the same time, the Swedish concept of flygskam, the feeling of shame about the effect of airline travel on the environment, gained traction. The Financial Times said flygskam, which translates literally to flight shame, summed up 2019 in a word. As knowledge of the impact of air travel increased, so too has the call to fly less, to find alternative, slower means of transport, such as train or car.

And, of course, there’s the price of gas, which is looking quite affordable these days.

Domestic travel has always had its issues in Canada, mainly because of the cost of a plane ticket. When it’s cheaper to fly to Hawaii from Vancouver or to London from Toronto than it is to fly within our own borders, many opt for an international trip.

But Canada is blessed with some of the most iconic drives on the continent. Lest thoughts of the scenes on Highway 401 between Toronto and Montreal depress you, think of the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, Alberta’s Icefields Parkway or the Pacific Marine Circle Route on Vancouver Island. Heck, you can even drive to the Arctic Ocean via the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway in the Northwest Territories.

Via four wheels, a week-long road trip can take you across provinces, through national parks, to hidden beaches, quirky museums, roadside produce stands and more, all without luggage restrictions, security lineups or unanticipated delays.

When it comes to travel, our world may be smaller, but we’re now positioned to get to know our corner of it better than we ever have before.

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A masked woman rides an electric bicycle in Havana while a wave hits the seawall.Ramon Espinosa/The Associated Press/The Associated Press

E-bikes will rule the streets

The office wants you back and you have a dilemma: How to get there in safety and comfort on Planet COVID-19?

The crowds on the buses and subways scare you, so they’re out. The car, maybe, although the traffic is maddening and the parking fees outrageous. Which leaves your bike. But it’s getting warm and you don’t want to plunge into your first meeting all sweaty.

Your solution might be an electric bike, or e-bike. They were already popular before the pandemic; now they’re hot sellers and, city planners willing, they could change the face of urban mobility forever. Cities everywhere are already responding to the novel coronavirus crisis by removing space from car-traffic lanes and handing it to cyclists. As a bonus, more bikes mean less carbon emissions and cleaner air.

E-bike makers and retailers are having trouble keeping up with demand in some countries. VanMoof, a prominent Dutch maker of e-bikes, said that its global sales rose by almost half between late February, when the coronavirus hit Europe, and mid-March alone. British sales rose more than 180 per cent between late February and late April. “The shock value of corona has pushed people out of their normal routines into new habits,” VanMoof co-founder Taco Carlier told Reuters this week.

E-bikes were invented in the United States in the 1890s, but went almost nowhere for a century. In the 1990s, Yamaha produced pedal-assisted e-bikes, a technological breakthrough. The system meant that the bikes were not, in effect, motorcycles, which would require a licence to operate. The electric motor would kick in only when you were pedalling.

Today, almost all e-bikes use pedal-assist technology. Many bikes can now go 50 kilometres or more before the battery needs recharging. The problem with e-bikes is their expense. While prices are dropping, a decent e-bike could set you back $2,000. The other problem is lack of bike lanes. Cities in North America, less so in Europe, were designed for cars, not bikes or pedestrians. But that’s changing fast.

Rome is promising 150 km of new bike lanes. Milan, Mexico City, Paris, Bogota, Calgary, New York and other cities also have ambitious bike-lane programs. Their goal is to take the pressure off their public transportation networks, which are now hobbled by physical-distancing rules. But their mayors also see opportunity in the coronavirus crisis. It could be the catalyst for sustainable transportation in cities that have absolutely no space left for more cars.


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A worker boards up a closed clothing store in Vancouver.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

We’ll shop for summer clothes when it’s actually summer

By Caitlin Agnew

As clothing stores reopen over the coming weeks, those who venture out to shop will be greeted by new sanitary measures similar to those already in place at grocery stores – and a glut of spring and summer inventory that’s been sitting on shelves for months. With a report published by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company in early April finding that the global fashion industry is expected to shrink by 27 per cent to 30 per cent this year, “shopping for clothing is going to look radically different for the foreseeable future,” Imran Amed, The Business of Fashion’s founder and CEO, says.

To survive this global recession, brands will be moving away from the traditional fashion week schedule, which showcases seasonal clothes months ahead of when consumers actually need them. Instead, stores will be selling bikinis and sandals in July. And the sell-what-people-want-to-wear-now approach could stick around.

COVID-19 has accelerated structural changes that the fashion industry has been undergoing for years, the biggest being the possible abandonment of the fashion week calendar and the embrace of more practical, less aspirational scheduling. On May 12, a group of designers and retailers that included Dries Van Noten, Nordstrom and Holt Renfrew published an open letter calling for the full-price fall/winter selling season to be set from August to January and the spring/summer merchandise to be available at full-price from February to July. In other words, you’ll finally be able to shop for summer clothes in May, the time you’re thinking about wearing them.

In store and online, this buy-now, wear-now mentality is also reflected in new product offerings that are being sold through limited-edition drops and via preorders from shoppers. One leader is Smash + Tess, which makes on-demand clothing locally in Vancouver.

“A lot of brands and designers have shifted to thinking more direct-to-consumer sale as opposed to the wholesale model,” Vicky Milner, president of the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards, says.

A downside for deal hunters is that end-of-season sales will be pushed back by two months and customers can expect to pay full price for items if they buy them when they actually need them. But connecting with seasonality may ultimately mean buying less and buying better.


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Czech movie-goers in masks ustomers wearing protective masks visit a Prague theatre after the government allowed them to reopen.Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images/Getty Images

Movie theatres will only screen blockbusters

by Barry Hertz

If the world returns to normal any time soon, Tenet will be the first movie to welcome audiences back to the multiplex. The latest sci-fi head-trip from director Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar) has not budged from its scheduled July 17 release, set long ago by studio Warner Bros, even as other movies have retreated.

But in hopefully ushering audiences back to the theatre, the US$200-million Tenet also sets the template for what kind of movies will be theatrically released going forward: big-budget, big-spectacle, big-deal blockbusters that demand to be seen on the biggest screen available. The days of going to a theatre and expecting to watch anything made for under $100-million – any movie not tied to big studios, big directors, and big franchise potential – are gone.

Even before COVID-19, convincing audiences to venture to a cinema was a challenge, thanks to convenient and cost-effective streaming. If audiences are going to take the public-health risk today, they are going to do so only when presented with a can’t-miss opportunity: a Marvel movie, a 007 shoot-'em-up, a splashy fantasy epic. Studios are only going to release a movie theatrically if it is guaranteed to be a hit – everything else can go direct to digital. And exhibitors, desperate to fill their new socially distanced seating plans, are only going to play all-demographic-friendly sure-bets.

So: Anyone hoping to go out to see a mid-budget drama that appeals to, say, women aged 45-plus is going to be disappointed – even more so than they were pre-pandemic. But, hey, there’s always streaming.

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Adam Kalinowski, frontman of the rock band Black Jeans, plays a concert from his kitchen window in Gdansk, Poland.Matej Leskovsek/Reuters/Reuters

Concerts will get tiny, and even more expensive

How hard has COVID-19 hit the world of live music? It just ended Dylan’s Never Ending Tour, alive and mostly well since 1988.

Substantive touring looks to be over for 2020 — Concert-promoter colossus Live Nation has suggested that things won’t be back to anything close to normal until the fall of 2021, which will be too late for many. In mid-March, on the day after the WHO declared a pandemic, the Canadian Live Music Association surveyed the country’s music presenters. Seventy-one percent of them said they doubted they’d to be in business by the end of the year.

Before COVID-19, the concert industry was a delicate balance between artists, fans, venues and promoters. In the months to follow, we will see chaos, innovation and experimentation as the industry seeks to reinvent itself. The monetization possibilities of live streaming will be tested. Physical distancing and sanitation protocols at venues will be put in place. Drive-in concerts will be a thing (why weren’t they before?).

The general direction will be this: Small venues, crowd-capacity severely capped, with sky-high tickets to see the shows. Michael Dorf, founder of City Winery, a U.S. chain of high-end, intimate venues, considered the possibilities in a guest column for Pollstar: “Can we set up a room with a legal capacity of 1,000 in order to safely bring in 300 people with some social distancing, hospital-grade sanitation, safety protections and protocols for staff and audience, and put on a show that can provide even limited income for everyone and a great time for the audience?”

One insider I spoke with estimated that for Dorf’s scenario to work, tickets could cost as much as $800. That may sound steep, but music fans have shown their pockets to be as deep as they need to be for the best seats and VIP access to their idols.

The new normal will be a two-tiered system, then: The moneyed will pay for in-person intimacy, while the rest will watch online. (Even before COVID-19, the new owner-operators of Toronto’s El Mocambo were already planning on a high-tech hybrid model such as this.) What about the punters? Again, the answer lies in pre-lockdown trends. Using platforms such as Side Door (which links artists with hosts), regular folks were increasingly presenting live music themselves. The overhead is lower, the live experience is unique, and the artists get a higher cut of the take. We’ll see more of this.

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Buenos Aires's Colon theatre sits closed on April 23.JUAN MABROMATA/AFP via Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

Get ready for a lot more one-act plays

by Marsha Lederman

The show must go on, they say. But when it does, the live theatre experience may undergo a drastic change.

Live performance has taken a catastrophic hit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Canadian theatre, opera, classical music and dance companies have gone dark – with the exception of work they’re streaming online. Curtains will not be rising anytime soon.

When they do – and not all of them will – the experience of both producing and attending live performances will change, with new safety protocols and simpler productions. Think Waiting for Godot as opposed to West Side Story.

Consider what theatre patrons have come to expect: the line-up to enter, the pre-show crush in the lobby, the uncomfortable – now potentially harmful – shimmy past the people already seated in your row. Then rise and repeat at intermission, with an added lineup at the bar and, heaven forbid, the bathroom. (Thought the washroom line was long before? Imagine that physically distanced queue now, snaking through the lobby.) COVID-era intermissions will need to be longer to accommodate all of this, with proper sanitizing measures in place. Then there’s the crush to exit after the final bows.

“A theatre lobby is a minefield of prospective contagion,” says Steven Adelman, vice president of the Event Safety Alliance. The group, which is based in the U.S. but also works with Canadian companies, released its Event Safety Alliance Reopening Guide this week.

The document recommends designating an “Infection Mitigation Coordinator” with medical and risk management knowledge, who will deal with both front- and back-of-house concerns.

It outlines safety measures that could include staggered entry with timed tickets purchased online, the elimination of on-site ticket purchase or pick-up, and temperature and health screenings before entering. The group recommends exiting the same way you deplane: by row or section, to eliminate choke points.

You will not be handed a program – that will be available through an app on your phone, which may also be used to sell food, drinks or merchandise.

Masks may be required; theatres in South Korea are currently requiring them. Audiences are also undergoing a light disinfectant shower (while clothed) upon entering, according to media reports.

There are many backstage complications too for the production itself: sets to build and load in – in a safe, physically distanced way; lighting and other technical set-up issues. During the run, what to do about shared dressing rooms, tight backstage passages, make-up artists and hair stylists, dressers who help performers quickly change costumes? Then consider onstage interactions, and for live music, the snug orchestra pit, where there is not enough room to sit musicians at a safe physical distance.

Two metres apart may not be sufficient in these cases. “That’s generally how far the virus-laden aerosols that we breathe can travel before they hit the ground,” says Adelman, whose law practice specializes in sports and entertainment.

“But [a performer] singing in full voice, breathing from the diaphragm, somebody who is breathing heavily into a wind instrument, or even exerting themselves playing guitar – they’re going to send their aerosols farther.”

These are issues Canadian performance companies are contemplating right now – and will likely factor into programming decisions.

“You’re not going to do Shakespeare the usual way. You’re not going to put on Godspell or Hair,” says Adelman. “These giant ensemble performances with huge dance numbers either are going to be changed or they’re not going to happen.”

More ideal: one-act plays, which mean no intermission, minimal bathroom use and lower talent budgets. Finances are going to be a critical issue for companies that rely on box office and concessions (food and merchandise sales) for the bulk of their revenues.

For companies, it may be a better bet to stage a big-draw revival than risk something new. Sets and costumes might already exist in some form and patrons may be more willing to risk precarious conditions for something they have been dying to see: Hamilton, Jerusalem. Or a reworked, smaller-cast version, such as a staged reading.

“This is all a stopgap,” says Adelman, adding he welcomes the stopgap as a better alternative to no live theatre.

“I think it is worth noting that artists are creative,” he continues. “They’re going to be well suited to roll with the punches. And frankly I’m excited to see what new art comes out of this new normal.”

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Masked visitors look at paintings at the Old National Gallery in Berlin on May 12 after easing of Germany's lockdown allowed it to reopen.JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

Art will become appointment viewing

by Marsha Lederman

It’s a notoriously unpleasant art gallery-going experience: standing on tip-toe, crammed up against a bunch of strangers, staring at the Mona Lisa or another famous work. If you’re looking for a silver lining in this COVID-19 crisis, here’s one: no more crowding around trying to get a glimpse – or photo – of the masterpiece that has come to town. No more crowds, period.

The timed entries that you have likely experienced when visiting a blockbuster exhibition will become the norm at busier art galleries as they reopen. Visitors will be encouraged to buy tickets online – the less human interaction, the better. And when there is human interaction, expect Plexiglass. You’ll also see hand sanitizing stations throughout, while water fountains will be shut down. If there are doors that separate galleries (many are carefully climate controlled), there will likely be staff on hand to open them.

As for those international masterpieces coming to town, there will be none of those for a while. With global travel at a virtual standstill, artworks, which must be carefully shipped and accompanied by special couriers, aren’t going anywhere for now. As a result, many institutions will be drawing on their own collections for upcoming shows.

As all galleries deal with a severe loss in revenue from closed doors, cancelled facility rentals and perhaps corporate and private donors with less money to give, expect fewer shows, with longer runs. Planned exhibition schedules will be changed; pretty much everything will have to be pushed back – or, in the case of some international exhibitions, cancelled.

Stephen Borys, director and CEO at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, says this is a time to rethink what an art gallery can be: not just a place to look at art – which is important – but also a vital gathering place, with a critical role to play in the community.

On May 5, the WAG reopened after nearly two months, with two free days for frontline workers and their families. The first people through the sensor-activated sliding doors were two nurses.

WAG staff were thanking the women as they entered. “By the time they left,” says Borys, “they were thanking us.”


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The Olympic rings are pictured in front of the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, during an online executive board meeting on May 14.Denis Balibouse/Reuters/Reuters

Olympic circuses need permanent bubbles

by Cathal Kelly

As well as being our premier sports event, the Olympics is also the catalyst for one of humanity’s great seasonal migrations.

The working party – athletes, coaches, officials, media, support staff and volunteers – numbers about 100,000 people. Most travel to the event. Many more than that show up for pleasure. A half-million foreigners visited Rio de Janeiro for the past Summer Games. London 2012 reported disappointing figures – only 420,000 non-Brits swung by to watch the Olympics. Apparently, the main deterrent to visitors was their worry that London would be too crowded.

How much worse does that concern seem now?

Several of the rolling crises in the world – from the pandemic itself, to the resulting financial shock, to its effect on the travel and hospitality industries – converge noisily at the Olympics.

Without a widely distributed vaccine, Tokyo 2021 isn’t possible as planned. Adding many people all at once to a city of 10 million transforms it into a petri dish. Even stripped down to essential staff, the Olympics isn’t tenable. Tespo Many thousands more people are required to coach, equip, transport, feed and house them. There’s no such thing as a bubble that big in the middle of a metropolis.

For now at least, the Games as we have known them are over.

Beijing 2022 kicks off seven months after Tokyo 2021.

So when we talk about cancelling the already once-cancelled Olympics, we’re talking about cancelling two Olympics, which begins to sound like considering a world without an Olympics.

There is one obvious solution to this problem: centralized Olympic hubs.

The current Olympic model has been falling into disrepair for decades. Countries with the resources to stage the thing – your Canadas and Swedens – no longer want the hassle. After you’ve paid for one luge track, buying a second seems wasteful.

Many of the countries who do buy themselves an Olympics can’t really afford it. They only realize that after the bills have come due.

As wasteful as it can seem, we’re not getting rid of the Olympics. It’s too much fun and does too much good in bringing our fractious world together. It’s a more useful diplomatic tool than the United Nations.

But other than aggrandizing a few plutocrats, there is no need for the Olympics to be a travelling circus. The ancient version bumped along nicely for four centuries in a central location.

If the pandemic goes on long enough, the groundswell to anchor the Olympics in two permanent venues – summer and winter – will become a necessity.

Given the history, Greece seems an obvious choice for the Summer Games iteration. Somewhere in Scandinavia – Norway, perhaps – feels right for the Winter Games. You can depend on the weather up there.

If Greece or Norway or whomever won’t volunteer for the duty, others will.

It might cost a few billion dollars to build these locations – less than what every new Games costs. The International Olympic Committee ought to be on the hook for that.

After that, it’s a simple matter to tariff every IOC member country for the upkeep. This could operate on the pay-to-play model. Countries that send hundreds of athletes to each Games contribute proportionally more than those that send only a couple dozen.

Now that we have the benefit of having seen a global catastrophe up close in our lifetimes, these new Olympic sites can be built to withstand them.

Ramming as large an audience as possible into arenas in order to jack ticket revenues can be taken out of the equation. The new Olympics (and just about every other sporting extravaganza) will be a made-for-TV spectacle. Seating will be minimized or eliminated.

The Olympic bubble becomes just that – a sealed environment housing only the participants. The site should be built away from large population centres so that it can be closed off from them.

The resulting sports facilities become a common training resource for the world’s amateur athletes, but no competition other than the Olympics may be held there.

Can this plan be enacted quickly? That depends on how desperate organizers get. The IOC does not want to wait six or more years (the distance between Pyeongchang 2018 and Paris 2024) to hold a Games. One imagines it can get a lot done in a hurry if the other option is inaction and the risk of irrelevance.

The world faces many irreconcilable issues right now. This isn’t one of them. Reimagining the Olympics doesn’t just solve its proximate problem, but its holistic one as well.

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Hannah Duarte of California kisses the Stanley Cup at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.Ethan Miller/Getty Images/Getty Images

We will never see anyone kiss the Stanley Cup

by Shawna Richer

It seems a given that contact sports will have to be reconsidered: so much spitting, sweating and spewing. Fighting, long thought too dangerous for other reasons, suddenly seems an insane viral risk.

But what about the softer side of sports and what happens after victory is secured? Say farewell to the great gentlemanly and gentlewomanly traditions of sports: the postgame handshakes and embraces in hockey, tennis and golf; the on-field and on-court postgame mobs; and bro-hugging in football and basketball.

Perhaps the most heart-breaking of all? No more passionately kissing the Stanley Cup, raising it above your head and passing it to your teammate.

Forget about group-chugging champagne and beer from the most iconic trophy in pro sports. It’s shocking, really, given that these actions are probably the most basic and chaste the Stanley Cup endures each season. The NHL’s championship trophy has been to strip clubs and the bottom of swimming pools, and hockey players’ babies have peed and pooped in it, but it may never be kissed again, at least on television.

It is almost unimaginable to picture Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby (who famously tucked the trophy into his bed and slept with it) not kissing any of his three Stanley Cups before passing it to a teammate on the ice or in the dressing room. The greatest championship moment in sports, done in by a pandemic.

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Players take part in an e-sports tournament during the digital festival DreamHack Leipzig in Germany this past January.Jens Schlueter/Getty Images/Getty Images

The esports stream will become a flood

by Simon Houpt

Sports shutdown? What sports shutdown?

A few weeks ago, Wayne Gretzky led the Edmonton Oilers to a 5-4 overtime win over Alexander Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals. Golf fans hungry for action were thrilled last weekend when Dean Burmester sunk a hole-in-one on the Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland.

Did it matter that those real athletes were actually playing digital versions of themselves on virtual platforms?

So-called e-sports – digital renditions of physical sports, such as NHL 20, which was the platform on which Gretzky faced off against Ovechkin, or pure online video games such as Fortnite – have been growing in popularity for years. Many believe the pandemic will be a tipping point for more widespread acceptance.

In a recent online post, the Canadian-born venture capitalist Matthew Ball suggested e-sports “has been popularized and legitimized in an unpredictable and profound way. And ... forever after, there will be more revenue, more funding, more viewership and better distribution as a result.”

After years of standing by while massive audiences have grown on such online platforms as Twitch, where gaming fans watch their favourite players stream themselves in competition, broadcasters are jumping on board. This month, Sportsnet began airing the new season of NBA 2K, an official basketball e-sports league operated by the NBA, which includes the Toronto-based Raptors Uprising GC, marking the league’s first time on TV in Canada.

This Sunday night, TSN2 will air the final of the eMLS Tournament Special, a competition featuring teams of one real MLS athlete paired with a pro gamer playing the video game FIFA 20.

Meanwhile, the NHL continues its NHL Player Gaming Challenge, in which real NHL players have been facing off against each other on NHL 20. The series, which airs on NBC in the United States and on Sportsnet in Canada, has provided fans a chance to eavesdrop as some of their favourite players sit on their couches and chirp at each other.

“Video games are here to stay,” said Chris Golier, the NHL’s vice-president of business development and innovation.

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