These have been strange times. The outbreak of the SARS-CoV2 virus and subsequent global COVID-19 pandemic has been a roller coaster, turning the world on its head as countries around the world do their best to contain the outbreak.
Four months ago, it seemed like a distant problem that would barely affect us. Three months ago it looked like a serious problem which might affect racing at some point. Two months ago, as the pandemic grew, the scale of the impact was starting to become clear.
One month ago, the world had come to a standstill, as the outbreak approached its peak in many countries. The thought of any sports, let along motorcycle racing, in 2020, seemed an almost impossible prospect. Now, as restrictions are started to be lifted, the very first photons of light hinting that this tunnel might just have an end are being detected.
It has been hard to know how to characterize what is going on. Everything is ringed with uncertainty and doubt; as French Grand Prix promoter Claude Michy put it, the virus is in charge. The world is never black and white, but it is a particularly muddy shade of gray at the moment.
On Friday night, Japanese journalist Akira Nishimura used a phrase which I feel perfectly sums up where we are at the moment. In response to the story I wrote detailing the challenges to be faced when organizing a race, Akira wrote, "Optimistic pessimism will be the best strategy, isn’t it?"
That concept, of us currently being in a situation where "optimistic pessimism" is required, is a good and useful way of thinking about where we are at the moment, and the trajectory we are on. And for me, the latter is far more important than the former: so much is changing at such speed, that it makes almost no sense to think about where we are. The rate of change and the direction of travel are a far better reflection of the world.
Through February and March, the motorcycle racing world, and the wider world beyond it, was on a downward path, accelerating steeply. We went from mild concern to deep pessimism about the future. The world was a very bleak place indeed, with no sight of the future.
In April, things did not so much improve, as get worse more slowly. The rate of change slowed, as the spread of the disease slowed. But deaths climbed, leaving us in a dark place. Towards the end of April, as the disease as being contained, the deep pessimism receded. Things still are still looking difficult, with many challenges ahead, and there is still little reason to hope we will be racing any time soon, and even if we do, that anyone except the teams will get anywhere near it.
Things are bad, but there might be reason to hope. As Akira put it so perfectly, the best strategy is optimistic pessimism.
In a month, as countries start to open up, and it becomes clear what each country's strategy for ending the lockdown is, it will be possible to make real plans to organize races. Right now, we don't know who will be able to fly where, and whether they will be kept in quarantine if they arrive in a different country. By the end of May, we should know much more.
We might be able to see a way that racing can happen, though many challenges will still remain. Then, the best strategy might be pessimistic optimism.
The final stage, when the wider world has the COVID-19 outbreak under control and we can return to some semblance of normality, is still a long way off. That stage, of pure optimism, will have to wait for either an effective treatment or an effective vaccine. Those are many months, and maybe even years away.
For now, though, the direction of travel seems to be the right one. We are approaching the turning point, though we will only be able to see it clearly in the rear view mirror, once we are past. For now, optimistic pessimism is the best strategy.
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