Virus? What virus?

Gemma – WRC President

What a difference a month, a week, a day and even an hour makes.

“Virus? What virus?” certainly sums up the attitude weeks ago. We were right in it and yet we didn’t realize this invisible and formless miasma had us entirely surrounded.

Mahjong has always been a welcome refuge from the twists and turns of the real world’s machinations. No matter what was happening outside, the mahjong table was a constant, a place of escape. It is so unusual for reality to intrude into our hobby, but here we are with a very rude and unwelcome pathogenic guest at our party.

I flew to Austria and Japan in February to do a recce and discuss with Lena (Austrian organizer) and the good folks in Japan how we would proceed with the preparations. Coronavirus was ravaging China and although a ship docked off Yokohama was struggling to contain its spread, it all still seemed very foreign still. We barely even mentioned it in our meetings, assuming this was like the other diseases and it would be contained by talented medics and scientists. It’s astounding naivety in hindsight.

I suppose we weren’t alone in our misplaced optimism. There is barely a corner of the globe that Covid-19 hasn’t touched, and our governments seem taken completely off guard.

Mahjong events from Japan to Europe have been cancelled. Each cancellation will represent a small heartbreak for the organizers. Of course, on the scale of what is happening, a cancelled mahjong tournament is nothing, but it is these smaller tragedies that make us feel ever more out of control of our destinies in a climate of fear.

I imagine you read (or skimmed) so far because you’re hoping I’m going to give you some great announcement or clarity on the World Riichi Championship Vienna scheduled for August…

We are continuing to prepare for the event assuming the best will happen; the summer will come and chase away this plague. However, we are looking at ALL the options. It would be irresponsible not to.

When this first hit headlines many weeks ago, I made a long document of contingency plans; ways in which we could be affected and how we would react. Considering my innocence of the past, this was remarkably future-thinking of me. I feel calmer in a crowd of people panic buying loo roll right now. It’s proving to be a roadmap of how we handle this.

We are ready to keep the show going if it is at all possible. We have five months. A lot can happen in a week, even more can happen in five months. But have no doubt, I am realistic.

What I don’t want us to do is act in haste. The situation changes daily and WRC is ready to respond. At this moment, we wake up in the morning having no idea what the evening will look like. Our lives are changing substantially and irrevocably. WRC will have to change, too. I just don’t know what that will look like yet. I hope that as governments get into their stride, we will see the future of our event with more clarity, too.

I understand the frustration of not-knowing this has for players hoping to attend. When I started working on the WRC project, I felt the massive weight of hopes and expectations that rested on the outcome of my efforts. I want each event to be something that isn’t just a highlight of your year, but a highlight of your life. People take precious vacation days and save for this. I want to be worthy of that trust you place in WRC.

Despite you already placing this huge trust on us, I have to ask for more — patience. Just like I had to at the Las Vegas event when another huge tragedy impacted the event. I can’t articulate how much support I felt as everyone in the community acted with understanding at a situation I didn’t clearly understand. I’m afraid I have to rely on you all once more.

For WRC 2020, my advice on the weekend was to either delay your bookings or book plans that you can cancel/modify. Let me reiterate and add to that now, and say you should book using a credit card (which should give you extra protections at least in Europe).

Of course, WRC is far from the only mahjong event impacted by this sudden and evolving calamity. Reach out to the people you know who are organizing events. Let them know you support them whatever happens. It is dreadfully harmful to our mental health to feel like we have disappointed and let down the community. We know they had no choice and did nothing wrong, but make sure they know that, too.

In the end, this is only mahjong. We must remember that it is nothing more than a disappointment if an event has to cancel. I fear that for some of us, this virus crisis is going to touch our lives in far more permanent and terrible ways. Mahjong is not a priority. Stay safe, follow the government advice, wash your hands.

Our mahjong party isn’t over. The music is just on pause.