Limited Sporting Action of 2020
What a year! Since World War II nothing has impacted sports as this pandemic of 2020. High profile events were cancelled and several postponements. Looking back at this year of uncertainty one saw the indefatigable spirit of sports and sportsmen that took on the virus, the obstacles, to finish off the year with some memorable moments. Despite the odds and scare, some events were held without spectators most of the time. The year saw many legends, luminaries walk into the sunset, never to be forgotten.
The biggest events to be cancelled were Tokyo Olympics, Euro 2020 and Copa America. The Olympics was postponed for the first time in history. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made it clear that the Games would go ahead from July 2021 ‘with or without Covid.” ‘It will be appropriately be referred to as the ‘games that conquered Covid.’ The IOC also hinted that it was possible that the Games, which will be called Tokyo 2020, might be held to a ‘limited audience,’ which was better than having no audience at all.
Euro 2020, the quadrennial men’s football championship organised by the Union of European Football Association (UEFA), that was slated to be held in June was postponed. It will now take place between June and July 2021. And Copa America, the South American football championships, will be held in 2021 during June-July in Colombia and Argentina.
Football Hit Hard
Several leagues in Europe were halted and postponed. Clubs and associations incurred heavy financial losses. Most of the stars spent time with their families trying hard to stay in form and physically fit.
The German league, Bundesliga, was the first to big tournament to resume in May 2020 with strict health protocols that went on to become the benchmark for other tournaments. Several other football leagues resumed and the season successfully completed. Bayern Munich (German), Juventus (Italian), Real Madrid (Spanish) and Liverpool (English) were crowned winners of the respective leagues that at one stage looked unlikely to be completed. In France, the league was called off by the government and Paris St. Germain was declared winners on the basis of the points secured at the time of calling off the event.
To the credit of the football organisations it must be said that they found a way out of this imbroglio to complete the tournaments that were stopped midway and also begin a new season. In fact, some of the leagues have started admitting spectators to the matches now.
In India too, football showed the way ahead through the darkness. The top professional league tournament I-League and the glamourous Indian Super League are underway. The 2019-20 edition of the I-League had to be cancelled and Mohun Bagan declared winners but the first phase of the new edition is on at three venues in Kolkata, while the ISL is being played at three venues in Goa.
The tennis season that usually starts with the Australian Open in January followed by a crowded calendar took off with defending champion Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin winning the men’s and women’s singles titles. The tournament did have its moments of scare. The bushfires that raged through the country left a smoke haze over Melbourne on the first day of the event. That day the air in the city was rated the worst in the world. Play was delayed in the qualifying rounds, some players called for medical timeouts and one player was forced to retire due to a coughing fit. Was that a hint of what was to hit tennis and sports in the months to come?
All the Grand Slam events after this had to be either rescheduled or cancelled as the virus spread to the corners of the globe. The rescheduled French Open, usually held in May-June, was shifted to late September. Unlike many other sporting events the organisers at Roland Garros decided to allow a restricted number of spectators to the matches. A daily draw determined who would be able to attend. A maximum of 1,000 fans were permitted to enter the stadium each day. For the record: Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek won the men’s and women’s titles. Swiatek became the first Polish to win a Grad Slam singles title and the youngest singles champion at Roland Garros after Nadal in 2005 and Monica Seles in 1992. And Nadal levelled Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles with this win.
The Wimbledon championships were cancelled for the first time since World War II, while the US Open was conducted during August-September 2020. The US Open saw defending champions Nadal and Bianca Andreescu citing safety concerns and the ability to compete at the highest level respectively. Austrian Dominic Thiem and Naomi Osaka won the titles. The tournament saw top seed Djokovic disqualified after he hit a ball out of frustration causing injury to a line judge. This was the first time a top seeded player was being sent off from a Grand Slam singles event.
The 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship, which marked the 70th anniversary of the first Formula One World Drivers’ Championship had to be cancelled. It was to be contested over a record of 22 Grand Prixs with new races added in place, and a total of 17 races were scheduled. The season started in July with the Austrian GP and ended in December with the Abu Dhabi GP.
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes entered the season as reigning World Drivers’ and World Constructors’ champions respectively. This time Mercedes secured their seventh title making them the only team to win 7 consecutive championships, breaking Ferrari’s record. Hamilton became the most successful Formula One driver of all time with a record 95 race wins and a seventh championship that equalled Michael Schumacher’s record haul. He won 11 of the races.
The other highpoints of the 2020 season was Mexican Sergio Perez, who won in Bahrain becoming his country’s first winner in 50 years and Frenchman Pierre Gasly winning at Monza to become the first French winner since 1996.
Formula One successfully staged a season at
a time when the pandemic raged. Safety also triumphed, with Frenchman Romain
Grosjean walking away from a fiery crash that split his car in two in Bahrain.
Of course, most races were staged without crowds. The highlight races of Monaco
and Singapore were cancelled entirely along with all races in Asia and the
Americas. Vietnam’s planned debut never happened.
In July 2020, the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced that both the 2020 and 2021 editions of the men’s T20 World Cup had each been postponed by one year. The 2020 tournament moved to November 2021 and the 2021 tournament moved to October 2022. The 2023 World Cup has been scheduled to take place eight months later than planned, with the tournament moved to October and November 2023. Australia and India retained the rights to host the tournaments, with the ICC announcing that India will host the 2021 tournament, and Australia will host the 2022 tournament.
International cricket resumed in July with the ‘Revival’ Test series between the West Indies and England. It threw up some lessons on how the game would be, in the pandemic era. West Indies spent seven weeks in England – confined to the two on-site hotels at the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford. It was a brave move that brought cricket back to the television screens.
Apart from the interim changes in the laws of the game with regard to the use of saliva on the ball, availability of Covid substitutions and additional DRS reviews to offset home umpires standing in games, along with new operational guidelines relating to safe event management within the confines of biosecure bubbles, there were subtle but vital tweaks in the way teams were selected. This is likely to have long-lasting effects in the way the sport is played and funded, worldwide.
Many of the tours and scheduled series were either cancelled, postponed or rescheduled. In August Pakistan toured England for three Tests and three T20 matches. Some of the other notable series were Australia in England, India in Australia, West Indies in New Zealand and England in South Africa. The last mentioned series was halted midway when Eoin Morgan’s squad did not play half of the scheduled six white-ball games following a Covid scare.
Perhaps, the biggest cricket tournament to
be successfully organised was the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League,
which was played in the UAE from September to November 2020.
Track and Field
Many track and field events were either cancelled or postponed. Among those conducted were the 2020 Diamond League and World Athletics Indoor Tour. Perhaps the single most important achievement in the year gone by was that of Swedish pole vaulter Armand Duplantis. He broke Sergey Bubka's 26-year-old outdoor world record at the Diamond League in Rome. In his second attempt Duplantis bested Bubka's mark of 6.14 meters set in Sestriere in July 1994. Incidentally, Duplantis broke the indoor world record twice in 2020, clearing 6.18 meters in Glasgow in February. Notable among others who bettered world records were Joshua Cheptegi of Uganda who set a new world record in the 5,000 metres in August at Monaco and in October at Valencia he improved on Kenenisa Bekele’s 15-year-old record in the 10,000 m by more than six seconds.
Legends Who Left Us
Kobe Byrant, USA
Helicopter crash in Jan
Diego Maradona, Argentina
Heartattack in Nov
Paolo Rossi, Italy
P K Banerjee, India
Balbir Singh Sr
Hockey-Olympic Gold medalist
Participated in London (1948), Melbourne (1956) Olympics