Three years before the birth of world’s most successful sporting venture, Indian Premier League, its creator Lalit Modi, while discussing the nitty-gritty of the event, had surprised me by declaring that in next decade sporting events will be super-hit even if not a single spectator comes to stadium. His words turned into reality on March 13 at Sydney Cricket Ground when the Aussies played New Zealand behind closed doors in the opening match of their most recent ODI series.
Though the situation was forced by the Covid-19 pandemic, it turned out to be most watched match earning, almost double revenue for the broadcasters. Will it be the trend and pattern of future sporting events?
The way this pandemic has turned sporting world’s programmes upside down it, the answer seems to be in the affirmative. Even though as of now almost all major sporting events have either been pushed back, put on hold, or cancelled due to Covid-19, with most notable casualties being summer Olympics (Tokyo), Grand slam Tennis events Wimbledon, and French Open. Postponement of the summer Olympic Games was the biggest setback. The International Olympic Committee and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have now rescheduled the event to next year, where it will now take place from July 23 to August 8, 2021. Uptil now, Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has infected more than three million people worldwide.
Australia coach Justin Langer said playing cricket without fans in the stadiums is a reality and an option worth considering, even if it helped get the game going again after the worst of the coronavirus crisis. Not only Langer but most of sports legends think teams of almost all games would be keen to play in empty stadiums if the alternative was a longer furlough.
Eoin Morgan, England's skipper in the shorter formats, has already suggested that future matches could be played without spectators. Even with measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, spectators will not be allowed in stadiums. Social distancing is almost impossible in sporting arenas.
It will suit TV broadcasters as they will be the most obvious beneficiary. They are keen to see getting games underway to ease the financial strain. Resuming cricket would also be a boost to the morale of the millions of fans around the world who are confined to their homes with boring and repetitive stuff. For the love of the game, supporters will be able to entertain people through TV sets or radio, as per their choice.
This lull period has also affected cricketers badly. Cricket Australia have delayed the announcement of their contract list for the next year and test skipper Tim Paine recently said last the players were bracing for pay cuts.
The victim list of coronavirus is quite big. It started with the Indian Premier League T20 tournament (March 29). Though officially it’s postponed, it seems over for this season at least. The Pakistan Cricket Board had announced that Pakistan Super League matches would be played with no spectators in the stadium, but finally it was cancelled. England's two-match test series in Sri Lanka, scheduled to start on March 19, was also postponed.
Meanwhile in England, all elite and glamor football events, including the English Premier League, has been suspended.
All national team games scheduled for June have also been postponed. The FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation have agreed to postpone the Asian World Cup qualifying matches in March and June. The Euro 2020 tournament has been postponed until 2021, European football's governing body UEFA said in a statement on March 17. UEFA said that the 24-team tournament, which was due to be staged in 12 nations across the continent from June 12 to July 12 this year, would now take place from June 11 to July 11, 2021.
Almost all Major League Soccer (MLS) top-tier football league in the US has extended postponement of matches in the country until at least June 8. On April 12, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced the postponement of the two-legged semi-finals of the African Champions League that were supposed to take place in May. The CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) Nations League Finals, which were scheduled for June 4 to June 7, have been suspended. The finals, due to be contested by Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States and held in the Houston and Dallas areas of Texas, will be rescheduled for a later date in venues to be determined. This year's Copa America has been postponed until 2021.
A notable sporting victim is tennis, with cancellation of the Grand Slam event French Open in Paris and Wimbledon in London. Besides, two dozens of ATP-WTA & ATP tournaments were cancelled. This has put a question mark on the sponsorship issue.
Apart from ITF events, the Davis Cup too suffered. Asian Champions League matches involving Chinese clubs Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai Shenhua and Shanghai SIPG have been postponed. The start of the knockout rounds has been moved back to September.
The Confederation of African Football has postponed two rounds of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers scheduled for March 25-31. Many other tournaments of horse racing, ice hockey, judo, modern pentathlon, motorcycling, MotoGP, World Superbikes, rowing, rugby, sailing, shooting, skiing, snooker, surfing, table tennis, and swimming events were cancelled or deferred.