Sport 2020: When the lights went out

Not all that long ago, sports fans were faced with difficult choices. In the February issue of the Holland Times, the headline read, “2020: A Walhalla for sports fans”.  Not since “Dewey defeats Truman” on the cover of the Chicago Daily Tribune has a headline been proven so utterly wrong.  Entering the second quarter of the year, with the sports calendar in tatters and 2020 will already go down in history as the darkest year in sporting history since the Second World War.

As the Covid-19 virus moved from China to the ski slopes of Italy and other parts of the world, the unthinkable started to occur in sport.  First, protective measures were taken to abate the spread of the deadly bug.  Games were played without handshakes and finally without spectators.  As awful as the spectacle of sport without fans would be, we soon be longing for those matches as the world’s health authorities shuttered events, competitions and even participation sport throughout the world.   

On the 8th of March, when the final whistle brought the match in Groningen against PSV to close, the 0-1 win for the visitors from Eindhoven may have been the last game of the Dutch Eredivisie season.  While the situation was still very much fluid in the Netherlands as this publication when to press, the UEFA had already felled the largest fixtures on the European calendar having axed the Champions and Europa League finals and postponing the European Championship until 2021.   The Netherlands joined or would soon be joined by every other soccer competition on earth in halting their competition save for Belarus whose Premier League was still playing in front of spectators at the end of March.

Other sporting events were already being curtailed, either by limitations or by outright cancellation.  By the end of March, team and individual sport had ground to a halt.  From the American Professional leagues such as the NBA, NHL and MLB to the Australian Football League, the competitions were shut down on seasons either in mid-stride or as in the case of American baseball or Australian footy, just getting started.

The lone stalwart would be the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.  Slated to take place take place from 24 July to 9 August 2020, the decision to postpone was put off for what seemed to be painfully too long.  In the end, a groundswell of complaint by both athletes and several national federations coupled with a statement from Canadian IOC member Dick Pound, who took it upon himself to be the unofficial spokesman of the Olympic Movement, forced the hand of the organizers in Tokyo and Lausanne to announce a postponement.  As of late March, the projection is that the games will be held in similar time period in 2021.

Pro cycling has faced an equally dismal fate with Paris – Nice being the last major race completed before a complete moratorium.  Even then, several teams had abandoned the race citing concerns about rider safety.  With Italy’s Giro postponed, the next looming decision was left for the loftiest of all cycling fixtures, the Tour de France.  With most cyclists confined to quarters and only being able to train indoors, the sport’s governing body had been forced to use pencil only in attempting any semblance of a new calendar.

In addition to team sport, all individual sport ground to a halt with golf courses and tennis courts being declared off limits.  Roland Garros hopes to host the French Open in late September while the Augusta National Golf Course in Georgia has announced the postponement of the Master’s which was scheduled for the beginning of April.  These are only two examples but it’s obvious that it will be no simple task to piece back together any facsimile of a sporting calendar in 2020.

As if the news in the world of professional sport was not bad enough, participant sport has also been decimated.  From the level of club sport where the fences surrounding the soccer and hockey pitches have been chained, to the gyms and fitness centers whose doors are closed, the population as a whole has been widely deprived of an important health and social aspect of their lives.  Mass participation events such as marathons, cyclosportives and even fundraisers have been scrapped leaving organizers and charities in dire financial straits.    

The consequences for the sports world are immense and it far too early to calculate the total impact.  We must look forward to their return for it is the healing power of sport that gives us hope for the future.  In the meantime, we have our memories, aided by the countless hours of sports content available at the touch of a button through the magic of our electronic devices and the internet.  Hopefully that couple with the fervent belief that sport will someday soon return, will get us through.

Edition 10 April, by John Mahnen