In the film adaptation of Joseph Heller’s classic 1961 novel, Doc Daneeka explains the idea of a Catch-22 to Yossarian, a fighter pilot who’s trying to get out of flying.
The doctor tells Yossarian: “Anyone who wants to get out of combat isn’t really crazy so I can’t ground him.”
The pilot considers this for a moment and says: “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. In order to be grounded I must be crazy. But if I ask to be grounded, that means I’m not crazy.”
“You got it,” the doctor says.
“That’s some catch that Catch-22,” says Yossarian.
“It’s the best there is,” says the doctor.
The concept of the Catch-22, of course, has since passed into common usage even though it isn’t universally understood. Come to think of it, that in itself is almost a Catch-22, but if you consult an online dictionary, you get the following definition: “A dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.”
And your point?
Don’t rush me. I’m getting there.
On Thursday, news broke that Vancouver is no longer in the hub city running because the provincial health authority refused to alter the existing guidelines for the novel coronavirus pandemic. The province, it seems, was adamant it would enforce the tracing and isolation protocols on NHL players it had put in place for all British Columbians. That meant a positive test had the potential to cause a lengthy delay in an ongoing playoff series.
So here’s the Catch-22, and bear in mind I barely passed first-year English: Those protocols have been critical in the province’s successful battle with COVID-19 and helped create some of the best numbers in North America. Those numbers, in turn, were the reason Vancouver was at or near the top of the list of potential hub cities for the proposed Stanley Cup tournament that is scheduled to start at the end of July.
But those protocols, which made Vancouver so attractive in the first place, are now the reason the NHL isn’t coming to town. Perfect. Somehow, it’s a fitting conclusion to this tortured story, but if you think it’s a sad ending, you’re invited to reassess your opinion.
From the time Vancouver emerged as one of the hub city front-runners, there’s been something troubling about this whole process. British Columbians had sacrificed mightily to create an advantageous environment. They’d also followed the sound advice of the public health authority and Dr. Bonnie Henry, the figure who’s emerged as this province’s conscience.
But, suddenly, we were going to start compromising those standards. Suddenly we were going to make exceptions. And for what purpose? Vancouver was essentially going to act as a sound stage for the NHL’s pseudo-playoffs which, as we’ve mentioned, would have helped out a couple of hotels and their catering service.
We’ll never know the exact cost for that exchange, but we were inviting people in from parts of the world — hello America, hello Russia — where the virus is rampant. Yes, they were going to be placed in a bubble and, yes, there were going to be strict precautions.
But what guarantees could the province or the NHL offer? If we didn’t understand it before, the past 10 days have provided a stark reminder of the dangers in reopening too quickly. MLB has been riddled with positive tests. Florida, the site for the restart of MLS and the NBA, has become a calamity.
“(Florida) is the worst place, perhaps in the world, to have any kind of event right now,” Dr. Alon Valsman, an infectious disease specialist, told The Canadian Press.
He then added: “(The return of MLB) is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Even the PGA Tour, the one good-news story in the sports world, is reassessing things after a run of positive tests.
Now, it’s conceivable the NHL can pull this off. Las Vegas is supposedly in as one of the two host cities. Toronto and Edmonton are now competing for the other spot. Have at it, guys.
But in the current circumstances, the risk couldn’t be justified for Vancouver. It would have been an insult to everyone who sacrificed in this province to create some hope for tomorrow. It would have been a betrayal of Dr. Henry and everything she’s stood for. Ultimately, it would have sent the message we’re for sale and the public would have been enraged.
At least they should have been.
It’s difficult, in fact, not to feel a sense of pride over everything that’s happened. The province stuck to its principles. It didn’t compromise its standards or the health of one British Columbian.
Sorry, that’s a little more important than a hockey tournament.
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