When I reviewed a remarkable decade of sports news at this time last year, I thought of an unprecedented era of scandal and unrest and thought that the next 12 months might be relatively quiet in comparison.
We didn’t know that 2020 would be just around the corner when the biggest news most of us will ever know would be published. Just as it has influenced almost every aspect of our lives, Covid-19 has had a great influence on the world of sport.
The crisis has dominated the news, revealing many of the problems of the sport, but also highlighting some of its strengths.
Many of the key questions she has raised will not be answered and their implications will not be fully understood until 2021 and beyond. But in a year like no other, there have been many other great stories, both on and off the field, that will ensure that 2020 will never be forgotten.
Consequences of Covid-19
Since the Cheltenham Festival and the Champions League match of Liverpool against Atletico Madrid nine months ago, the sport has been closely linked to the history of the pandemic crisis that has evolved over time, despite the cancellation of overseas events, which symbolizes Britain’s initial reluctance to come full circle.
At a time when elite sport was a fundamental part of our popular culture, the suspension of the football season that followed, then the rapid collapse of the entire sports calendar of the world on a shocking Friday in mid-March, followed by the cancellation of many major events, and especially the postponement of the Olympic Games for the first time, were powerful symbols of the turmoil in society.
But it has also shattered the previous assumption that sport is somehow immune to the realities of the outside world, a forced break in the constant globalised sports calendar that has a huge impact on an already busy calendar and finances.
Coronavirus pandemic has led to the cancellation of Wimbledon 2020 for the first time since World War II
The sport has been shaken by weeks of uncertainty and tension about leaving the competition and other competitions. The fact that so many sports have been able to resume, albeit behind closed doors and with biologically safe bubbles, is proof of his ingenuity and challenge, his ability to raise people’s spirits and, of course, the need to fulfill important temping contracts.
However, the cancellation and curtailment of competitions has particularly affected women’s sport, as female athletes often return to their sporting activities well after their male counterparts. It is feared that the lost summer has reversed some of the progress and momentum of recent years, revealing and exacerbating the inequalities between men and women and the under-funding that still exist in elite sport.
But perhaps more than ever before, the saga has also emphasized the crucial role of fans in the sport, both emotionally and financially. When the tourniquets are closed, the loss of atmosphere in the soulless gymnasiums has left an emptiness that no amount of sports drama or artificial folk noise can fully compensate for.
The abolition of race days and the loss of registration fees has led to an unprecedented crisis with countless consequences in all sports.
There have been redundancies and other cuts against a backdrop of huge shortages, increased interest from private investors, an unprecedented £300 million bailout by the government for top sport (but not football) following a joint call for help.
It also led to the first free television broadcast of the Premier League, the bail-out of Premier League clubs for £250 million after months of controversy and the emergence of radical proposals to restructure the overall situation for the future of English football.
Liverpool win their first league title since 1990 and claim the 2019-20 Premier LeagueLiverpool win their first league title since 1990 and claim the 2019-20 Premier LeagueLiverpool win their first league title since 1990 and claim the 2019-20 Premier LeagueLiverpool win their first league title since 1990 and claim the 2019-20 Premier League
There are increasing calls for a review of the management and financial distribution of national competitions and tensions between sport and the public authorities over plans for a gradual and partial return of supporters. All these stories continue until 2021.
There are many other great stories related to the pandemic: The pressure from politicians and clubs on players to lower their salaries, the fact that some stars do not comply with the prohibitions, the equally embarrassing U-turns of Premier League clubs to lay off staff – and their decision to offer certain matches against payment after the reaction of the fans.
On the ground, 2020 has been a very important year. Some of the highlights are:
- Liverpool ended their 30-year reign with just seven games to win the title.
- Lewis Hamilton wins his seventh world title, a record.
- Tyson Fury made one of the biggest comebacks in the sport by crushing heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder on a crucial night in Las Vegas.
- The Exeter Chiefs scored an important dime between national and European rugby.
- Jockey Holly Doyle became the first rider to have five winners in one race before Bryony Frost also made history by being the first to win the King George VI Chase in Kempton.
- Lady Sarah Storey has won three other titles at the World Championships Para cycling.
- The Scottish men reach their first major football tournament since 1988.
- Adam Peet broke other world records in the pool. And a lot more.
- Tao Geoghegan Hart became the fifth British Grand Tour winner in the Giro d’Italia, while Lizzie Deignan won this year’s World Tour title for women.
But almost all these victories were played for empty pits, with Kovid casting a shadow over everything, with some victories that unfortunately felt hollow compared to the past.
However, it has also been possible to come out of the crisis with positive results. The charity of the sport has been put forward. This has forced sport to unite to demonstrate the economic and social value of the sector when applying for state aid.
The ban on mass sport is one of the most controversial elements of the lockdown, and there seems to be a new awareness of its importance as an essential service – a means to ensure the physical and mental health that society now desperately needs to recover from the pandemic, and also to contribute to solving the series of social problems that will result from the crisis it will leave in its wake.
Many questions remain unanswered: What is the influence of national blockades on the level of physical activity? Will some contacts or indoor sports activities change in size to convince authorities and participants that they are safe?
When are more fans coming back and what technology is being developed to help them? Will this depend on the successful introduction of vaccines? Will the increase in the number of Community cases lead to an increase in suspensions in the field of sport? Where will the European football championships take place and how will the Olympic Games take place when they finally take place this year?
Sport will hopefully help the world to recover from Covid and celebrate the return to normality. If all goes well, the Euros, Tokyo, the World Rugby Championship at home and the European Women’s Championship, as well as the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, can be much more than sporting events and become great emotional expressions of relief and reflection. But, as in life, the sport will never be the same again.
Black Life Affairs
The sporting year will be remembered as another great strength.
Just as the pandemic exposed racial health differences, the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd raised awareness of discrimination and injustice in the United States and triggered an unprecedented period of athletic activism.
Premier League played on the 17th. June continued with players on their knees…
When sports stars from all over the world came to their knees in solidarity with the movement, attention was once again drawn to the continuing problem of diversity and under-representation in positions of power. From Michael Holding and Lewis Hamilton to Naomi Osaka and Tyrone Mings, the stars of yesterday and today have delivered some of the most influential words and timeless images of the movement.
The inclusion of sport in the campaign has not been without controversy. Six Formula 1 drivers refused to join Hamilton to go down on their knees for the Austrian Grand Prix because they were concerned about the possible political connotations of the initiative in some countries.
In June, Burnley fans held a banner with the words White Lives Matter, an act condemned by club captain Ben Mee. And earlier this month, some Millwall fans jumped for joy when their team went down on their knees for the derby game. Similar incidents have occurred with Colchester United and Cambridge United fans.
But despite these episodes, there was little distraction from the fact that sport’s solidarity with these global efforts to combat racism was really important and allowed the governing bodies to step up their efforts.
The English Rugby Football Union has unveiled a plan to increase diversity. The England and Wales Cricket Board has announced the establishment of a new independent Cricket Equality Commission, recognising that the sport faces a number of uncomfortable truths.
The English Football Association introduced a new code of leadership diversity that was quickly undermined when President Greg Clarke was forced to resign after a series of inappropriate remarks during a disastrous performance before a parliamentary committee.
The year 2020 has taught me that life is precious: Rob Barrow, rugby legend, a year in the life of the MND.
Sports stars also gave other reasons. From England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford and his crusade against child poverty, which forced the government to reconsider its position, to Rob Barrow’s quest to raise awareness of motor neurone disease, to World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann of France, who severed ties with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei about his treatment of Uighur Muslims.
The combination of the Covid crisis and Black Lives Matter seems to have made sports stars aware of their happiness and the opportunity and responsibility they have to use their profile to address social issues.
Health problems of athletes weaken morale
The voices of the athletes were heard differently and forced the sport to stop, reflect and address extremely difficult issues.
Since the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, British sport has been plagued by a series of scandals related to the well-being of athletes and harassment. But the most devastating crisis is yet to come, as British artistic gymnastics is swamped by a barrage of accusations of abuse in the sport, including some of its biggest names, from Amy Tinkler to Neil Wilson.
An independent investigation was launched, the director general of sport resigned, athletes threatened to sue the governing body and questions were raised again about the prevailing culture in British sport.
It is still too early to judge the recent shift in the approach of the financier, who is committed to winning in the right direction and investing in sports that better reflect today’s society. But it seems that this is an extremely important moment in the development of British sport, after so many years of success overshadowed by controversy.
The crisis of dementia in football has intensified, especially after the death of Nobby Styles and the diagnosis of the English legend Sir Bobby Charlton. Under increasing pressure from the way they have dealt with one of the biggest problems of sport, football authorities will now consider further directional restrictions and the introduction of permanent substitutes.
The news of a possible seismic joint court case by a group of former rugby players claiming that the sports authorities have failed to protect them from head injuries, and the shocking revelation by English world champion Steve Thompson that he is one of those suffering from early dementia, has reinforced the feeling that a concussion will take his revenge on contact sports.
Amid rumors of multi-million dollar compensation payments, not only the finances were at stake, but also the reputation of the sport. Despite the undeniable medical and cultural benefits of these contact sports, the threat can be high when security is at stake.
Regardless of how this sad story unfolds, if they want to convince future generations to play, it is clear that the sport must invest more in brain injury research, tighten protocols and change the rules, while trying to preserve what makes it special.
Disputes, conflicts and condolences
There was no shortage of intrigue throughout the year.
In football, the world’s most beloved defender, Harry Maguire, was at the centre of a remarkable incident in which he spent a night in prison and was convicted of assaulting a police officer in a distasteful incident during a holiday in Greece. He appealed, but no retrial is planned yet.
My conscience is clear. – Maguire told sports editor Dan Roan.
The failure of the bid for Newcastle United by a consortium supported by Saudi Arabia, as a result of concerns over human rights and television piracy, and the failure of the Premier League to approve the agreement has raised serious questions about the governance of the sport. The decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to annul the two-year ban on European competition imposed on Manchester City under the UEFA rules on financial fair play did the same.
The city missed the opportunity to sign Lionel Messi, who eventually chose to stay with Barcelona after he suddenly requested a transfer with a bomb. But the Spurs have managed to secure the return of the former star Gareth Bale. His loan from Real Madrid changed the game in the race for the multi-billion pounds of the Premier League summer spending.
As always, integrity issues are controversial.
Lamin Dick, the former director of world athletics, was jailed after being convicted of corruption in connection with the major doping scandal in Russia.
The ban on major sporting events trying to conceal a conspiracy was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but was halved to two years. This provoked a serious reaction from athletes and anti-doping officials a few months before the postponement of the Tokyo Games.
The man missing in Tokyo is the fastest man in the world, Christian Coleman, who was sensationally banned for two years after missing two doping checks and making a wrong classification. He appealed.
The world of athletics has tightened the rules for high-tech running shoes, but has resisted pressure to ban the controversial Nike Vaporfly shoe, despite fears that it would distort fair competition and make technological doping possible.
New questions about Mo Farah’s relationship with his former coach Alberto Salazar have been banned in a new Panorama investigation.
And jockey champion Oisin Murphy received a three-month ban after testing positive for cocaine, despite claiming not to have used the drug.
The great Diego Maradona, who inspired Argentina for the 1986 World Cup, died in November at the age of 60.
But the year 2020 will also be remembered for the loss of two sporting giants whose deaths sent shock waves across the world at the beginning and end of the year.
The death of basketball icon Kobe Bryant in a plane crash in January and the death of Diego Maradona, perhaps the greatest footballer of all time, in December are tragic reminders of the unique influence and importance of sport in our lives and the legacy of a truly tragic year whose sport is far from over.