The New Normal? Covid-19 and Sport in 2020
James Bagby looks at the way that viewing sport has changed since its slow re-emergence as lockdown restrictions gradually ease
For the first time in the era of Coronavirus, live football and golf graced our TVs. They were not the same sports that we once knew, with no fans to fill the stadiums or line the courses, but it was still recognisable. Both events still displayed individual brilliance to accompany the tension and stakes required to distract fans, albeit briefly, from the unprecedented reality of the world we are living in.
Half a million UK viewers watched Dortmund and Schalke resume proceedings in the Bundesliga on Saturday afternoon. If conditions were normal, Signal Iduna Park would have provided the most fervent of atmospheres for one of Germany’s most passionate rivalries. Therefore, it comes with a tinge of irony that this is one of the first fixtures where stands lay quiet and the stalls closed.
The spectacle of a game played at the highest level yet, with no fans, requires an adjustment. Of course, this has been seen before with Croatia against England or PSG vs Dortmund, just before the break, but this time felt different. It came with social distanced subs benches and celebrations, as well as managers wearing face masks. The double standard nature of these practices can be seen by all watching. Players still jostle with each other on corners and stand side-by-side in walls at a free kick. However, in order for the game to be played as intended, physical contact is necessary. Regardless, precautions must be taken wherever possible for the safety of everyone involved
Players such as Marcus Thuram and Dedryck Boyata were called out by the media for their celebrations which seemed to breach social distancing guidelines, but it is hard to blame them. Football is still a passionate sport and players can be forgiven for being caught up in the moment of the game. After all, this is the first round of fixtures in this new era, there will be mistakes as this new breed of football evolves and finds its footing in a world where the rules are being adapted everyday.
Meanwhile at the Seminole Golf Club in Florida, four of the world’s best golfers took to the course. While the Bundesliga’s restart was borne out of financial necessity, golf resumed for charity. Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolf gathered to raise as much money as possible for Covid-19 relief efforts and with it, a different feel. While the Bundesliga could be described as sterile, an attempt to play all the remaining fixtures to meet commercial requirements, the charity skins tournament felt warmer and more human. After all, due to the current climate the golfers played without caddies, carrying their own bags round an empty course, a scenario familiar to most amateur golfers, minus the broadcasting crew.
It turns out that the professionals aren’t that different from amateurs anyway. There were plenty of relatable moments for fans to enjoy with Dustin Johnson forgetting his ball marker and using a tee instead or Matthew Wolff getting hounded by an unrelenting bee. Even Rory McIlroy, the reigning world number one, had a moment to forget with an “amateur” attempt at a chip shot on the 10th. These events moments lent themselves to the relaxed nature of the day and despite President Trump’s best efforts to hijack the event with a call into the broadcast, the event was a success. McIlroy decided the tie with an outstanding final shot on a tiebreaker and overall, $3million were raised.
At a time where sport can seem almost pointless, these two events were an act of defiance against the virus and the threat that it posed to our everyday life. With more football leagues around the world set to resume and sports such as cricket targeting start dates, sport is reminding everyone that it will not go quietly in the face of despair.