Sport summer 2021 – a return to normalcy?

Sports fans around the world have witnessed an unpreceded year.  The Covid-19 pandemic has had a pronounced effect on the sports we watch and play.  All sports were altered in some way, with some completed decimated.  Spectator sports saw their fans sequestered in large part to their television screens while participation sports saw their enthusiasts either have to modify their practices or abandon them altogether.  We all know that in sports that there are winners and losers but in 2020, there were far more losers than at any other time save perhaps for the war years.

As we head into the summer of 2021, we are looking at two positive developments: the decline of Covid-19 infections and a full calendar of sporting events, some of which are holdovers from the Sport Summer 2020 that really wasn’t.  While nothing is set in stone, we will take an optimistic look at what’s on offer for the coming months.

The first major event on the Dutch Sport Summer calendar is the European Championships for Field Hockey.   ‘EuroHockey’ as this tournament is officially known, will be held from 4 -13 June for both the men and women. It is not a postponed event and was awarded to the Netherlands in 2018.  Normally, a major hockey tournament in Amsterdam is an absolute highlight on the social calendar with the pedigree hockey audience all too happy to endure any traffic snarls getting to the Wagener Stadium on the edge of the Amsterdam Bos.  Just how many hobnobbers will be able to partake in the bubbles and balls affair remains to the be seen.  Ticket sales have opened but are subject to the prevailing winds of change on the Covid front.

The granddaddy of European Championships will also take place starting in June.  The Beautiful Game will see UEFA host it’s very own European Football Championship from 11 June – 11 July.  Postponed from 2020, there are two big reasons the Netherlands will be brimming with excitement headed into this Euro.  First, the Dutch have qualified which was not a given based on the performance of the Men’s National Team in recent years.  Second, Amsterdam’s own Johan Cruyff ArenA will host all of the first round matches featuring Oranje and will also be the venue for one of the knock-out round matches.  The Dutch team, led by coach Frank de Boer, will face Ukraine (13 June), Austria (17 June) and North Macedonia (21 June).

The Euro will be the first major test of organizational capacity on the Sport Summer 2021 agenda.  The organizers are working with 4 scenarios from full stadia (highly unlikely) to empty stadia with seats covered in sponsor tarps (highly undesirable). The middle scenarios involving a mixture of capacity limitations, social distancing and pre-match Covid-19 testing are the most likely but also present the biggest challenges to the organizers.  The Championship will be played throughout Europea as a celebration of the 60 year anniversary of UEFA, an idea that probably seemed a lot more attractive when it was thought up in a time Corona was largely thought to be a Mexican beer.

Originally scheduled to start on 27 June 2020, last year’s Tour de France was postponed until 29 August. The race began in Nice on 29 August and concluded with its traditional finale on the Champs-Élysées on 20 September.  Its completion was considered by many to be nothing short of a miracle, a likely exception being second-place finisher Primož Roglič who lost the race on the penultimate stage to his fellow countryman from Slovenia, Tadej Pogačar. This year’s 108th edition of cycling’s biggest stage is set for 26 June – 18 July.  Restrictions will be in place to limit the number of spectators but the lessons learned from last year’s version should prove very useful in ensuring the safe completion of the event.

One of the major casualties of the 2020 Sport Summer were the 2020 Wimbledon Championships traditionally played at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London.  Cancelled outright, the venerable tennis Grand Slam fixture is slated to return to Wimbledon 28 June – 11 July.

The biggest and perhaps most controversial event looming on the summer sports calendar are the games of the Games of the XXXII Olympiad to be held in Tokyo, Japan, 23 July – 11 August.  Originally due to take place from 24 July to 9 August 2020, the event was postponed in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and will not allow international spectators.  Despite being rescheduled for 2021, the event retains the Tokyo 2020 name for marketing and branding purposes. This is the first time that the Olympic Games have been postponed and rescheduled, rather than cancelled.  As the summer begins, Japan is still wrestling with a persistent wave of Covid-19 infection.  Though the Japanese government has given its continued, unwavering support to the games taking place, a majority of the populace is actually against it.  With postponement out of the question, the most likely scenario will be a mammoth safety enhancement that will surely see the operating budget skyrocket to heretofore unseen heights…but the show will go on.

Provided the pandemic follows its expected course and we are not contending with a new wave of infection by the end of August, our Sport Summer 2021 will have a historical finish.  From 3 – 5 September, the beach community of Zandvoort will host the Formula One Dutch Grand Prix for the first time since 1985.  The triumphant return of motor sport’s marquis event was scheduled for March of last year, but ultimately cancelled.  The exact nature of Covid-19 precautions will only be known later in the summer, but suffice it to say that there will be limitations set on spectators.   The limited number of tickets, coupled the early success of Dutch driver Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), could lead to secondary market prices the likes of which this country has not seen since the tulip bulb mania of the 17th century!  Perhaps a little mania is the small price we are willing pay nn the road back to some semblance of normalcy.

Written by John Mahnen