Olympics Postponed and No Wimbledon as Coronavirus Derails 2020 Sport

Published December 22nd, 2020 - 11:06 GMT
Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

The postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to next year was no longer a real surprise when it was announced on March 24 as by then the coronavirus had already brought many parts of the world and its sports scene to a standstill.

The Euro 2020 tournament was pushed back a year six days earlier, all major sports leagues had already stopped, and winter sports seasons were abandoned, Deutsche press agency (dpa) reported.

And when Wimbledon was cancelled as well on April 1 it was very clear that this was not any kind of April Fool's joke, with golf's Open Championship and the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix then other big events being scrapped for good.

There were outstanding sports performances such as Liverpool winning a first Premier League title in 30 years, pole vaulter Armand Duplantis among several bettering athletics world records, Dominic Thiem winning a first career grand slam title at the US Open where world number one Novak Djokovic was disqualified after (accidentally) hitting a ball at a line judge; Lewis Hamilton claiming a record-equalling seventh Formula One world title; and Slovenia's Tadej Pogacar a surprise Tour de France top spot.

And if the pandemic wasn't bad enough in 2020 world sports also mourned the death of US basketball star Kobe Bryant and Argentine football icon Diego Maradona.

The coronavirus played havoc with and crippled the international sports calendar, and it soon became obvious that the world's biggest stars were not immune either.

Footballers Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Djokovic, Hamilton and NFL quarter-back Cam Newton were just some of the prominent athletes to contract the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

Entire teams like Real Madrid also had to quarantine after positive cases.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had long withstood the pressure but in a joint statement with local organizers eventually gave in in March, after the powerful US Olympic Committee and major sports federations including swimming and athletics had called for a postponement and Canada announced it would not send athletes.

"The unprecedented and unpredictable spread of the outbreak has seen the situation in the rest of the world deteriorating," a joint statement said.

IOC president Thomas Bach and then Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, had a telephone conversation and "concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled ... to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community."

The first-ever postponement of the Games was inevitable after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic amid thousands of deaths per day and many countries heading into lockdowns or already at a standstill to contain the deadly virus.

It was a difficult decision given the immense costs of the postponement, with the IOC and Japanese organizers now working on ways to make the Games - in which Russians can compete as neutral athletes despite their doping affair - now due to start on July 23, 2021, simpler - and cheaper.

Abandoned or postponed seasons and the absence of fans also led to big financial hits for athletes, clubs, leagues and federations elsewhere, with the IOC, football's FIFA and others setting up relief funds.

German Football League (DFL) chief Christian Seifert said on December 7 that the Bundesliga and second division would lose some 2 billion euros (2.4 billion dollars) in income.

Obligations from billion-dollar TV rights were among the driving forces that saw many events eventually get going again - mostly behind closed doors and in bubble environments.

The Bundesliga was the first major league to restart amid a strict and acclaimed hygiene concept on May 16, with Bayern Munich lifting the trophy again, the German Cup a week later and the Champions League trophy as well in an empty Lisbon stadium on August 23 - success which helped their striker Robert Lewandowski become World Footballer of the Year.

Champions and Europa League formats were changed into mini tournaments to complete the season, and NBA basketball and NHL ice hockey finished their campaigns in bubble environments as well in Orlando and Toronto/Edmonton, respectively.

The absence of fans was an eerie spectacle for many but essential to contain the virus as events early in the crisis such as the February 19 Champions League match between Atalanta and Valencia in Milan are suspected of having acted as a virus super-spreader, with Italian authorities now conducting a criminal probe.

The new season is now in full swing despite many positive cases such as hundreds within the NFL, amid coronavirus regulations and still mostly behind closed doors.

In addition, late summer and autumn also saw three postponed golf majors and cycling's three grand tours led by the Tour de France to be held, while F1 managed to stage a 17-race season between July and December.

Even as vaccines are now becoming available the aftershocks will continue for years, with for instance world championships in sports like athletics and swimming moved one year to 2022 because of the postponement of the Olympics.

Officials meanwhile hope that vaccines will help allow the Tokyo Games to take place in front of at least a few fans, and to serve as a shining light for world sports and beyond.

“The Tokyo 2020 Olympics can also symbolize the resilience of humanity as we work together to defeat this invisible enemy, Covid-19,” Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said in early December.

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