A slow restart for sports

For the first time ever, there was a total shutdown, unheard of in the history of sports

Published: 18th Jun 2020   12:05 am Updated: 17th Jun 2020   11:19 pm

Sports has taken a severe beating due to Covid-19. There was a total shutdown, for the first time ever in the history of sport. Massive financial losses apart, it pushed sportspersons to the brink as all sporting activities, including training sessions stopped. The future is uncertain, as this disruption will have cascading effects and serious ramifications.

The coronavirus could cause about Rs 4,000 crore loss to the BCCI if the IPL is not held. The NBA, NHL and MLB face $1 billion loss and so is the financial hit in different parts of the world. It is simple, no games mean no revenue. The Tokyo Olympics, scheduled for July, was postponed to next year leading to a huge loss for Japan.

New Order

Although a few disciplines like golf, football, cricket and NBA basketball have returned, there is no guarantee that they could be incident-free, even though the organisers have promised a bio-secure environment. It remains to be seen how successful will be the attempts to revive sports in such new conditions. Playing in closed-door stadiums could become the order of the day.

The German football league, Bundesliga, was the first to be restarted in empty stadiums. The La Liga (Spanish football) and Italian football too have returned. The English Premier League is following suit. Stakes are high as top football players play in these countries. All these matches are being played in empty stadiums. The organisers are helpless for they are in a financial mess. The only hope of reviving the fortunes of many clubs is through the telecast of the matches.

There could be glitches while playing in empty stadiums too, like in South Korea last month. FC Seoul wanted to bring in a little festivity by adding sex dolls in the empty stadium, but it had to apologise for the offence to the fans. The USA-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has a large television audience, began their show with empty stadiums.

Formula 1 is aiming for a return to the track with a double-header in Austria starting July 5, potentially followed by two further races in Germany at Hockenheim should the UK quarantine rules make it impossible to race at Silverstone.

sports
Cardboard with portraits displayed in the stands to encourage players. — Photo: AFP

Saving Grace

The NBA board of governors voted last Thursday to approve a 22-team format to restart the 2019-20 season on July 31 in Orlando, Florida. In the eight-game regular-season format, each team is expected to play one back-to-back.

The Wimbledon championships were cancelled for the first time since World War II. While the decision looked inevitable, Wimbledon was one of the few events not to have been officially cancelled or postponed ever. The French Open, originally due from May 24, has been postponed and rescheduled by the French Tennis Federation for Sept 20-Oct 4, shortly after the end of the US Open.

Rafael Nadal has insisted tennis “cannot resume until the situation is completely safe”. The World No. 2, who captured a fourth US Open and 19th major in New York last year, said the coronavirus pandemic still casts huge doubts over the tennis calendar, which stands suspended since mid-March.

National badminton chief coach Pullela Gopichand rightly says that the coronavirus has literally ripped apart the sporting world. “Since March, we for the first time, are confined to our houses. This has never happened to any sportsperson, unless s/he was injured. It could take a heavy toll on the sports fraternity. Mental toughness will be tested to the full. Coaches and psychologists have to play a huge role in restoring normalcy. The only saving grace is that modern technology has helped in conducting classes where coaches, trainers and players interact. The Badminton Association of India experimented with it and we received a good response.’’

Closed Stadia

In Hyderabad, all the stadia have been closed. The SAI-Gopichand badminton academy is a sea of activity as the national camps are held here but since March, it has been wearing a deserted look. The likes of world champion PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, B Sai Praneeth, Kidambi Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap and others have been forced to stay indoors. Sindhu played in the All England Championship in March and has not come for a single practice session thereafter.

The State government has not yet given the green signal for resumption of sports even though the Union Sports Ministry has allowed resumption of training. The Badminton World Federation has delayed their return and a lot of uncertainty prevails on the future programme.

Some national camps like hockey, both in men and women, have restarted after a long lay-off. The grounds, halls, gyms were sanitised and wearing of masks is compulsory. Though training is resuming, there is fear lurking.

Fear Factor

The fear factor is more in contact sports like wrestling and kabaddi. Disciplines like golf, cue sport, tennis are less vulnerable. Golf has returned in South Korea and also in North India, but there will be no caddie. The golfer has to drive himself/herself to the balls. Sport, as such, will now have a lot of restrictions.

Cricket is set to return next month when West Indies play a three-Test series against England in England although there is no word about the postponement of October World T20 championship in Australia. The hosts have promised a bio-secure environment. For a change, two of the three Tests will be played in one venue.

The Virat Kohli-led team will be touring Australia in November and the Australian Cricket Board, which is financially hit, is eagerly waiting for this tour as it can bring in the much-needed funds through live telecast of the matches.

The banning of saliva by the Anil Kumble-led ICC committee till the coronavirus is eradicated has evoked a lot of discussions. Bowlers, be it pacers or spinners, use saliva during the course of the match. It will be a big test for bowlers to bowl without using saliva.

Discipline and accountability in the current dicey scenario is another key concern for the sporting world. It is time to continuously take stock of the evolving situation and come up with new ideas as well as sporting protocols.


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