Sports without spectators: Will sports ever be the same again?

Stadiums all across the globe have remained empty as Coronavirus has brought professional sports to a standstill. The lockdown has also affected athletes’ preparation and training

 England-West Indies Test Match in England in an empty stadium
England-West Indies Test Match in England in an empty stadium
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Rohit Bhandiye

Over the last few decades, sport has been hit by major scandals like doping, match-fixing, corruption, countries boycotts, terrorists’ attack though nothing matches the scale of the Coronavirus.

The sporting calendar is in disarray amid the virus fears, with major international sporting events either being cancelled, postponed or relocated. Stadiums all across the globe have remained empty as Coronavirus has brought professional sports to a standstill. The lockdown has also affected athletes’ preparation and training, with most of them confined to their homes and forced to train in isolation.

The effect has been felt across a range of sports ranging from cricket to football, tennis to athletics, badminton to motorsports, hockey to boxing. Even the Summer Olympics, arguably one of the world’s most-watched sporting events has been pushed back by a year.

With every match or event cancelled, the industry’s economic impact has been severe; revenue from ticket sales are hit; apparel and sportswear sales are down. For modern commercial sport, there has never been anything like this. It is truly a test not just for leaders and managers working in the industry, but also for the athletes and spectators.

Besides athletes and organisers, sports businesses and manufacturers have also been affected. Factories which produce medals, t-shirts and other merchandise have been severely hit with many of them being forced to shut down their businesses. Even when sporting activities resume, it may take the industry several years to recover from the economic and financial damage

The sports media industry has not been spared either, with several sports journalists in India and across the globe losing their jobs, mercilessly sacked by their employers, while others had to settle with significant pay-cuts.

Amidst all the gloom, there is a silver lining. Sporting events in some parts of the globe, though not in India, have resumed in empty stadiums.

Football’s premier leagues such as German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga, and Cricket’s West Indies tour to England have begun. After all, health of people is more important than any game, even if it means playing matches without spectators.

In India, Cricket’s most glamorous event – Indian Premier League has been rescheduled and will be not be held in India this year, but in UAE, from September – November. Football’s Indian Super League will be held only at a single venue this year, mostly Goa, but without spectators. Women’s U-17 World Cup in India has also been postponed and will now be held next year in February and March. National Games which were supposed to be held in Goa in October later this year has also been postponed.

When sporting events finally resume, there are bound to be drastic changes in fans’ and players’ experiences. In these difficult times, the ability of sports to bring people together is missed more than ever.

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