A world without sports is something that would have been unthinkable a few months ago. Then Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz started laughing about feeling sick during an NBA pre-match press conference before touching all of the microphones. All fun and games, that’s until Gobert tested positive for the virus less than an hour later, resulting in the NBA suspending all games indefinitely.
With most games prior to that being played in empty stadiums in a number of countries, it wasn’t too difficult for Europe to finally suspend all leagues. Germany had in fact been amongst the first to remove the fans, while others were much more relaxed. The weekend in which the premier league and football leagues eventually postponed all games, the attendance at non-league matches increased by a substantial number. As if that wasn’t enough, Cheltenham Festival (premier horse racing event) saw over 230,000 people attend over the four days (Mar 10th-13th). So much for suspending football and forcing people to stay at home.
Despite being in the midst of the Coronavirus, there are talks that the U.S. sports could be making a return, and most European football leagues shortly after (news that will undoubtedly make plenty of people happy (me), while causing disappointment in those who have no care in the world about sports (my girlfriend)).
When and where will we be back?
On one of my favourite programs, the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver spoke of conference call held by President Trump. Adam Silver confirmed that Cathy Engelbert (WNBA commissioner), Rob Manfred (MLB commissioner), Gary Bettman (NHL commissioner), and Roger Goodell (NFL commissioner) were amongst the participants. The 45-minute meeting was regarding the reintroduction of live sports, and getting something out there for the wellness of the public. Silver did go on to say that no date was set, but the season isn’t over, and that games may be played without fans.
Most likely possibility is that the NBA, WNBA and MLB will be back in late May, early June. Such a start won’t affect the MLB or WNBA too badly, but the NBA will probably have to skip straight to the playoffs.
My view: It’s great that the discussions are happening, but the idea of bringing anything back before August is just absurd. One possibility is to have all of the teams located in the same place, playing in some sort of a gym. Think of it like an Olympic village of some sort. This wouldn’t be the worst idea as it cuts out travel, and further spreading of the sickness. Having said that, the unwillingness by the government to still take this situation as seriously as it needs to be taken is frustrating. The number of people broadcasting messages about how Americans need to sacrifice their lives for the economy baffles me, especially when the people calling for the sacrifice are sat in a nice little booth in their homes. The most striking quote from Adam Silver about the meeting was that “everyone was on the same page”. Well, If you are on the same page as Trump, then it’s for the best that you change the book.
The F.A. are looking at every possibility to get football back on the screens. Currently, there’s no start date but the chances are the Premier League will be back early June. These games will come quick and fast, and definitely be held in empty stadiums. It is likely the football league will follow suit, but non-league football is done.
No decision has been made by the Spanish F.A, as they are waiting on the outcome of the UEFA meeting that will be held on 23rd April.
Lower leagues have been cancelled. There is a plan to try and finish Ligue 1 between June 17th to July 25th. If the league cannot be finished on time, standings as of May 13th will be used to decide the final outcome.
The worst hit nation in Europe still has a while to go before they can truly think about bringing back football. Gabriele Gravina (Leader of the Italian F.A.). He has said that football will be back “when life returns to normal”.
As it stands, Italy is on lockdown until May 3rd. The chance of Serie A returning in May is pretty much impossible. Chance of it returning at all seems unthinkable. Having said that, the F.A. have made only one tentative decision so far; the return legs of the cup games will be played on May 27th/28th.
The Bundesliga is likely to be Europe’s best hope of getting some football on the tele. The Germans had already started playing games behind closed doors for a few weeks prior to games being suspended. In addition, the response by the German government in dealing with the Coronavirus has gone a long way to make sure Germany are able to pioneer the return of live football.
The chairman of the Bundesliga, Christian Seifert, had initially decided to hold a meeting on April 17th, but delayed the meeting to the 23rd. He wanted to give all the Bundesliga clubs a chance to decide what they wanted to do. I am expecting German football to be back on the screens around May 20th, but the government have stated that no fans are allowed to attend live sporting events up until August 31st.
The decision to cancel all leagues had been taken a while back, only to be reconsidered after UEFA contacted the Royal Belgian Football Association. As a compromise, the chairman is waiting for the result from the aforementioned UEFA meeting. Having said that, whatever the decision, I believe the Belgians are likely to wrap up the season and get ready for next year.
The Turkish F.A. have come under a lot of scrutiny because of their decision to continue playing games despite a call for the suspension of all leagues. Eventually all games were suspended even if it was a little too late. With only 8 games left of the season, and a nail biting finish waiting, the Turkish F.A. have said that the target is to resume the league as of June 1st and all games will be played in empty stadiums.
My view: The only league with a general chance of resumption is the German Bundesliga. Re-introducing football to the masses will undoubtedly help, but then again a quicker response by the governments would have been far more important. So, most footballing associations will be left with a dilemma; shorten the rest time between matches and risk injuries to players, or have an impact on next season because the current one lasted far too long. After all, the European season tends to end in Early June, whereas now, most associations are considering returning to action in June.
Dana White’s relentless approach to the Coronavirus pandemic has been incredible. The man has shown a willingness to do whatever he can to fulfil the mantra that most entertainers live by, “the show must go on”…
The last major event, UFC 248, took place in Las Vegas on March 7th, in front of approximately 15,000 spectators. A week later, the UFC hosted a fight night in Brasilia, in which the Brazilian Athletics Commission were not testing any of the fighters for the virus. That event had an attendance of zero. Since the fight night event on March 14th, Dana White has been on a one man mission to make sure that the UFC can broadcast a live event. He has exhausted every channel, and tried every trick. His last throw of the dice almost worked. For UFC 249, the headline event was a big one. Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Tony Ferguson. Khabib had to return to Russia, and once there, Russia closed its borders.
Or so you’d think…
Dana White found Ferguson a new opponent, Justin Gaethje. The event was due to take place in Brooklyn, New York, on April 18th. But you know the situation in New York. As a last throw of the dice, White tried to get the event streamed live from a private island.
Yes, a private island!!
White said that he was “very confident” that a deal would be done, and that they could give fans a live event. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled two days ago. One thing is for sure though, Dana White will not give up!
My view: In 2009, Dana White had said that UFC would be the number one sport in the world by 2020. Seen as an absurd prediction at the time with the likes of football and basketball around, yet here we are, 2020, and the UFC, even if for a short while, is fighting to be the number one sport in the world. I can respect that. Unfortunately for the UFC, there are too many obstacles in the way, and with the Bundesliga nearing ever closer, White’s window of opportunity is closing.
I am definitely looking forward to the return of some sports, but only if it is completely safe to do so. Germany, you are almost ready. U.S. stop rushing it. Italy, Spain, France and England, it may be time to prep for next year. Yet, even as I type, football is looking at any way possible to get the leagues done. If truth be told, this break from sports, albeit unthinkable a couple of months ago, has shown me that I don’t need it as badly as I first thought. Then again, I will not be sad to see it back, as long as people don’t need to die for my entertainment.