Up Front 09/20

One of the last live sporting events I attended was when Exeter Chiefs hosted Sale at Sandy Park in January. It was a disappointing result for the home team and a fairly mediocre game. But despite that, I doubt that I’m alone in wishing I could enjoy a live game again. I watched the Chiefs recent match against Leicester on television, and although there was some great rugby, without a crowd it seemed somehow hollow. Even the banter between commentators fell flat. And that’s an issue that has faced all sporting event organisers and clubs. Apart from the loss of revenue at the turnstiles, there is the question about how much fans will continue to be entertained by events on a screen. The need for some kind of atmosphere has led clubs across the world to try various different initiatives to bring their games to life, occasionally with hysterical consequences. One great story concerned FC Seoul, a South Korean football team. The club had to apologise to fans after ‘accidentally’ placing sex dolls dressed in football kit on seats in the stands in an effort to instil some atmosphere to their home game. While some clubs have tried using mascots, cut-outs of fans, portraits on seats and even dancing robots, FC Seoul purchased what they thought were shop mannequins to sit in some of their seats. However, as soon as the game began live transmission, the club was inundated with calls from people pointing out that the shape of the ‘mannequins’ made it very obvious that these were not for standard shop window use. The club was fined £67,000 and apologised, claiming that they ‘failed to make detailed checks’ on the mannequins. Rumour has it that afterwards they were inundated with applications for the role of Chief Mannequin Checker (CMC). Although some restaurants have trailed the idea of placing mannequins at empty tables to make their premises look livelier, the whole debacle did spark musings about where these shop dummies could feasibly be installed to replace humans. With Prime Minister’s Question Time sparsely occupied due to social distancing, one popular suggestion was to place them between members on the benches. The Speaker of the House could be given some kind of remote control system to make them (the mannequins) bray and guffaw on command. That way the House might get through more of its daily business with less interruption.