No one could have foreseen the disruption and chaos that the outbreak of a coronavirus could have. It’s the stuff of science fiction stories, not something that happens in real life – until now that is. The pillars of our modern society, once seen as strong and permanent began to crumble with the pandemic and everyone had to think again.
This was as true for sports as it was for governments and for everyday people. Major league sports had to find a way to play their seasons in a covid safe way, they had to find some way of playing contact sports that were warmer free from the virus contagion. For many that was touch and go, and for some it wasn’t possible; the vast majority however, they managed.
In 2020 and 2021 it has been touch and go in the world or professional sports. While some leagues have been allowed to continue, albeit without fans in stadiums, others haven’t been so fortunate. The NWSL which stands for National Women’s Soccer League has been largely postponed throughout the pandemic, but they did manage to get a tournament in.
In the summer of 2020 amidst the confusion and uncertainty of coronavirus outbreaks, the NWSL managed to host a 23-game tournament in Utah. It wasn’t an easy thing to pull off and one team had to miss the tournament due to an outbreak. But the tournament was completed and the Houston Dash won against the Chicago Red Stars.
The NFL is a good example of a professional sport that has been impacted by the pandemic but has continued to thrive, a bit like a quarterback rushing the linesmen. Because things started to go downhill in March it meant the NFL season could start as normal – there was enough time to form an effective plan.
But that didn’t mean the sport wasn’t severely affected by the pandemic, much of the pre season organisation had to be done via video call and the preseason and hall of fame inductions including some of the richest athletes of all time were canceled. That said, no games were lost in the season and many NFL games were played with fans in the stadium following government protocol.
The MLB was forced into a stop start scenario during the pandemic, a series of outbreaks and breaches of protocol meant that many of the games had to be rescheduled or improvised. However, there was a first pitch thrown and a World Series for fans to enjoy – albeit from their comfy homes.
It wasn’t possible for the MLB to play out the season in any normal or conventional way. They had to improvise on a universal DH, expand the payoffs and create regional schedules for games to get played. For some championship game neutral sites were chosen, a solution. Despite this the season was something of a success.
As you might imagine basketball is a potentially hazardous environment for the spread of coronavirus. It’s an indoor arena with a close proximity and lots of airborne water droplets. That’s one of the reasons the NBA shut the doors on its games and its season early. Only a few of the top teams were allowed to play inside a bubble.
Following this initial disruption to the season the NBA got back on track using a system of bubbles and neutral venues for games. Although there were some postponed games due to the pandemic and BLM protests, the league was concluded successfully.
The WNBA wasn’t quite as affected as the NBA in terms of getting games played and concluding its season. They created a sporting bubble in Florida and had all the season’s games played there. There were some fears over some coronavirus outbreaks but it didn’t affect the league.
As with the NBA the WNBA tool a very strong stance on the murder of George Floyd and the BLM movement. Known for its promotion of conversations about race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and gun control, the WNBA was able to continue to lead the way in social justice awareness through the pandemic.
There’s no question that College Football has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but you might not know it as most of the major leagues are near their conclusion. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however; at the start of the season there were big question marks over the inclusion of some of the main players.
A college football season without two of the five major conferences almost happened. The Big Ten and Pac-12 were originally going to sit out the season, but when the ACC, Big 12 and SEC started to look operational the other leagues started too. In the end all the major college football leagues got to play.
The NHL was one sports league that refused to give in to the coronavirus pandemic. At the onset of the lockdowns the league moved its bubble to Canada where it modified the tournament and was able to play a round robin playoff. This ended with the Stanley Cup in September.
Of course there were concerns about coronavirus cases but the league didn’t return a single one. Perhaps this is testament to the dedication of players who stayed away from their homes for up to two months to live in their sporting bubbles and protect their communities. This was a record making and record breaking season for the NHL.
The MLS closed its season in March due to the pandemic with only a few games left to play, then it returned in July after some speculation about its viability. The league promoted its return with the logo “MLS is Back”. Although the league returned in a bubble and played its games at Disney World, some teams were forces to stay behind due to outbreaks.
Despite the trouble and some setbacks the MLS was able to play out its 51 matches. 24 of the 26 teams in the league played last season and the Portland Timbers were declared champions.
When it comes to golf and the PGA there is less of a risk it seems. The individual nature of the game and its setting in wide open green landscapes with plenty of social distancing meant the sport could return much sooner that close quarters competitive matches. Some golfers had to pull out due to the illness but the tournaments went ahead.
The vast majority of golf tournaments went ahead last season including the Masters and the PGA Tour. The only golf tournament that was cancelled was the Open Championship but this was due to Britain’s coronavirus rules.
You might think that tennis could follow golf and be rather unaffected by the pandemic and various outbreaks. That is not the case it seems. Unlike other open air sports and tournaments tennis didn’t restart as normal and fewer tournaments have been played. This is partly due to outbreaks that sent the sport into a tailspin.
The ATP tournament and the WTA tournament returned in late August. The IS Open went ahead, as did the French Open, but there was no Wimbledon. Between the major tournaments various other tennis matches have been canceled due to the pandemic.
The pandemic has impacted the world on all fronts. It’s hard to imagine any other natural disaster that could have caused the same levels of inconvenience and frustration. With a coronavirus pandemic, there is always that small glimmer of hope that things could or might just return to normal.
This is certainly the attitude taken with regards to professional sports that are all the more important for public morale during these dark times. Fortunately, there have been some creative responses to the circumstances and most of the major league sports were able to continue in some capacity. Let’s hope for better next season.