Why the WSL should cut its losses and finish the tour Down Under in 2021.
Providing they can jump through all the COVID hoops the CT surfers and the WSL big band will be putting on their next show at Bells (Rip Curl Pro) from the first of April. Bells is scheduled to kick off a three contest, Down Under leg of the tour with Margarets and the Gold Coast to follow.
While nothing is definite in these Pandemic times, it certainly seems possible the WSL can pull off the Australian leg. Australia has thus far hosted an international test cricket tour with India without a hitch and our various domestic comps (cricket, Rugby League, AFL, etc) ran smoothly thanks to tight bubbles.
After the OZ leg, the WSL is scheduled to make a leap to Brazil and then to South Africa. Both those nations have been ravaged by COVID. Brazil has presently recorded 206 000 official deaths from COVID, while South Africa’s death toll sits at 35 000. By way of comparison, Australia has only recorded a mere 909 fatalities at the time of writing.
No doubt the WSL think tank is already working on potential scenarios, but forecasting the daily fluctuations in COVID clusters and the corresponding changes to border restrictions and protocols is like trying to find your way out of a labyrinth blind-folded. Having surfers and staff from around the world adds another range of complicated variables for the WSL.
Given the inherent volatilities of the situation and the fact vaccine roll-outs are not likely to usher in a global herd immunity for some time yet, does it not make sense for the WSL to set its sights on completing a tour in Australia or the South Pacific and forgetting about contests in other regions?
Perhaps the first question that needs to be asked is how many contests need to be run to constitute crowning a legitimate world champion? Initially, the men's and women's tours had ten events scheduled, followed by the inaugural finals series surf-off, which was to be held at Trestles.
Without debating the topic too much I’d hasten to say that five tour events (fifty percent of the original number ) with a finals series would be sufficient to crown a men's and women's world champion. There is some precedent here. CJ Hobgood was named world champion in 2001 when only five ASP events were held and the tour was cut short by the bombing of the world trade center on September 11.
Two WSL events, the Sunset Open and the Santa Cruz Pro have already been canceled this year. Assuming the three contest Australian leg is completed that brings the total number of events to four as Pipe has already been run and won. The events scheduled for Brazil, South Africa, The Ranch in California, and the Finals Series in Trestles seem to present major bureaucratic hurdles and health risks for all involved.
The one other event scheduled to be held this year is the Outerknown Tahiti Pro. The island in French Polynesia has remained relatively unaffected by the pandemic, thus far recording only 17 423 cases and 124 fatalities.
One scenario might see the Australian leg completed by May 13 and then a long hiatus until the Tahiti comp on August 23, with all the other events canceled. That gets the tour to the magic number of five contests, which arguably makes it viable to crown a men’s and women’s world champion. Hypothetically the WSL could return to Australia or remain in Tahiti to complete its proposed Finals Series. Hosting the finals series in a COVID saturated California (Trestles) seems increasingly unlikely.
Alternatively, the WSL could make plans on the hop and completely simplify the situation. If one more event and a finals series could somehow be added to the Australian leg then the whole tour could happen Down Under. If a sponsor in Oz throws their hand up to run an additional event or two then that’s a bonus.
A Down Under Tour would mean the surfers and WSL staff don’t have to deal with a whole range of issues associated with international travel and quarantines. The WSL became the centre of its own cluster in Hawaii and certainly won’t want a repeat of that PR disaster. The Tahitians may be sufficiently concerned about the Hawaiian episode to bar the WSL, meanwhile moving from region to region only increases the risk that the WSL becomes known as the traveling COVID circus. Certainly, it seems unlikely they would be made welcome back in Hawaii anytime this year, despite the fact COVID numbers are low on Oahu.
Perhaps an exclusively OZ-based tour (save the Pipe event that has been held) might not be the ideal scenario, but committing to such a plan could mean the beleaguered World Surf League can at least run two legitimate world title races in 2021. Can they really afford to go another year without crowning champions?