The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many aspects of culture around the world, and the world of sport is no exception. Major sporting events have faced unprecedented restrictions, including postponements and, in some cases, full cancellations.
The most notable of all – the Tokyo Olympics.
Not since WWII has the world seen so much disruption to sporting events. Very few countries have managed to continue with sports with little or no disruption, and even those that have been able to proceed as normal have most likely gone against health advice in doing so.
Players’ salaries have been cut, and jobs have been lost thanks to restrictions on large gatherings in stadiums. Who would have thought we’d ever see the day when games were played in stadiums with no fans.
All this said, sport has begun to return for many countries and continues to push on. So let’s look at how some of the major sports around the world have been affected by the pandemic, and what we can expect going forward.
What to Expect from Worldwide Sporting Events after the Pandemic
Worldwide soccer leagues including European leagues and the MLS in the U.S. have seen big tournaments postponed and matches that have resumed taking place in front of no crowds.
If empty stadiums continue, we could see the collapse of a number of football clubs since many rely on precious game-day revenue. Football in the U.S. especially relies on revenue from fans that come to games since the league lacks the lucrative contracts television networks have with other sports such as the NFL and NBA.
Already, we have seen this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament postponed until early summer 2021 by the Union of European Football Associations. Much of this was because the tournament would have taken place across 12 different European nations which would have potentially helped spread the virus even more.
Over in Africa, the African Champions League two-legged semi-finals were postponed early on in the pandemic by the Confederation of African Football which left many fans which were eager to place football bets on оnlinе sроrtsbооk platforms such as Kenya’s Sahara Games needing to be patient until the league resumed.
U.S. soccer leagues saw extensions of their season postponements and in some cases leagues created safe “playing bubbles” in which matches could resume. In Europe, the English Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, and Spanish La Liga all saw season suspensions that lasted months this past spring.
Major League Baseball in the U.S. felt impacts right off the bat (pardon the pun), with its spring training season suspended.
The actual regular season which was scheduled for March 26 did not step up to the plate until the end of July, with the season being condensed to just 60 games instead of the usual 162 games each team play every year.
Many MLB teams suffered COVID-19 outbreaks which forced them to postpone some of their games. Major League Baseball’s Canadian team, the Toronto Blue Jays, were forced to relocate to a new stadium for their home games when they were told they could not play at their home stadium in Canada.
We also saw Minor League Baseball and summer collegiate baseball leagues fully cancelled.
All special MLB games that were scheduled to be played internationally in countries like Mexico and Puerto Rico were called off. Likewise, games scheduled to be played at the London Stadium for the 2020 London Series games were also cancelled.
The NFL was fortunate in that the season ended with Super Bowl LIV in early February before widespread COVID restrictions began to plague sports.
During the offseason, however, most teams were not allowed to use their practice facilities and as the 2020-21 season neared, we saw the cancellation of pre-season games. The regular season did thankfully manage to kick off on time as scheduled.
The intention is to play the full 16-game regular season and have Super Bowl LV in February 2021, although stadium seating will most likely be forced to 20% capacity.
For many games played so far, simulated crowds have replaced real fans to give TV viewers at home the impression of full stadiums to add excitement. Some broadcasted games even feature sound effects such as roaring fans.
For stadiums that will be allowing NFL fans, sanitizer stations and social distancing measures have been put in place and players will be tested for COVID on an almost daily basis. While no games have been cancelled so far this season, we have seen a number postponed or rescheduled thanks to coronavirus outbreaks that occurred among a number of teams.
International NFL games scheduled to be played in London and Mexico City were cancelled as was both the Pro Bowl and a Pro Football Hall of Fame game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys which was rescheduled for August 2021.
The 2020 NFL Draft that would have taken place in Las Vegas also saw big changes which resulted in a switch to an online broadcast format.
Image by Jimmy Harris (CC BY 2.0) via Filckr
Australia’s football league, known as the AFL, began in March with empty stadiums. After just one week, the season was suspended until June until they could figure out a way to work around state border restrictions that had begun to be put in place.
The AFL’s usual 16-minute quarters were reduced to 20 minutes each and a number of measures were put in place to help stop the spread of the virus including the regular testing of players, sanitizing the ball between quarters, social distancing, and no sharing of certain equipment like coach headsets.
League staff saw a reduction in hours and salary, with both players and umpires receiving half their normal salaries. This was largely due to a large reduction in revenues created by severe limits on stadium fans being enforced.
As the state of Victoria started seeing a dramatic increase in COVID cases, Victorian-based teams were forced to relocate to safer states for the remainder of the season. Most games ended up being played in three states including Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia.
The Grand Final was forced to relocate form Melbourne’s MCG to the Brisbane Cricket Ground (known as the Gabba). This was the first time in history that the Grand Final was held outside of Victoria and only the second time it was not held at the MCG.
As for the 2020 women’s AFL season, we saw no premiership awarded when the remainder of the season was cancelled shortly after the semi-finals.
The 2019-20 NBA season became the longest in history, lasting over a full year if you include the pre-season games. While the 2020 NBA All-Star Game went off without a hitch, the regular season was suspended just a month before it was scheduled to finish. The season would not resume until the end of July.
The season was allowed to start back up for a final eight regular season games thanks to the creation of the NBA Bubble which saw teams relocated to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Players and coaches got to stay and play in the “happiest place on Earth” as they took up residence in Disney hotels while competing for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.
The coronavirus pandemic would result in it being the first time in history where the NBA finals stretched into September and October, with the Los Angeles Lakers eventually taking home the trophy. The achievement would have made former Lakers player Kobe Bryant proud.
As for European basketball, both the 2019-20 EuroLeague and EuroCup were cancelled and no winners were named. Canada’s National Basketball League would also end up suspending the remainder of their 2019-20 season.
We saw a chunk of the 2019-21 NHL season scrapped when it was suspended indefinitely back in March. The NHL did eventually return in August and saw the top teams battle it out for the Stanley Cup in an expanded playoffs setup.
The delay in this past season’s finish will see the upcoming season pushed back until at least January of next year.
We saw pretty lengthy postponements in cricket, with both the 2020 and 2021 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup events pushed back one year each.
Cricket World Cup 2023 has also been pushed back much later and will now not take place until late in the year instead of early 2023.
Women’s cricket was also affected by the coronavirus, with the 2021 Women’s Cricket World Cup postponed by a year as well. A number of cricket test series have also been postponed or rescheduled.
The coronavirus led to the tennis’ Wimbledon major championship being cancelled for the first time since WWII.
While other major Grand Slam tournaments like the French Open and U.S. Open did go ahead, many top players including defending champions chose not to compete in some of the tournaments due to safety concerns regarding their health.
This included both the male and female U.S. Open defending champions (Rafael Nadal and Bianca Andreescu) not competing in this year’s U.S. Open. The French Open was postponed roughly four months and the U.S. Open played to no spectators.
With no vaccine yet ready and the pandemic still very much controlling the way we all live, there’s no denying that restrictions regarding sports are here to stay for some time and we will most likely see the further postponement and cancellation of future sporting events.
It remains to be seen when or even if we will ever see sell-out stadiums in the future. There’s no denying many fans have been scared away from idea of participating in large gatherings and new social distancing and hygiene measure will most likely stay in place beyond this pandemic to stop the spread of other viruses and diseases.
Sport has become a strong part of our culture. We take pride in our teams and they often give us the feeling of hope and success. We can only hope that this pandemic won’t leave any permanent scars behind such as the permanent loss of leagues or teams.
One thing that has been proven, however, is the fact that even in the face of a massive global pandemic, we still manage to find a way to allow our beloved sports to play on.
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