WILL SPORTS WIN THIS BATTLE?

By: Danijela Babić, mountaineering coach

WILL SPORTS WIN THIS BATTLE?

Ever since the news of the new virus outbreak in China first came out earlier this year and the return of athletes, coaches, and other sports professionals from China, the first hints of the biggest crisis in sports since World War II started to appear. At that time, no one could have anticipated that — only two months later — a global quarantine would be introduced, and sports would come to a nearly complete halt.

The first to take the hit was high-level soccer. Elite European club competitions are canceled, and now it is almost certain that EURO 2020 — scheduled to take place in June and July in as many as 12 European cities — will have to wait for a healthier time. On April 1, UEFA suspended all Champions League and Europa League matches “until further notice.” All national team matches scheduled for June have also been postponed. FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation have agreed to postpone the World Cup qualifiers in March and June. The new seasons in Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean professional leagues have been stood over.

According to LearnBonds’ estimates, all of this will cost European soccer EUR 4.1 BILLION. The grimmest consequences will be felt by England’s Premier League, which is set to lose more than 1.2 billion euros. The Spanish Primera Liga will lose around EUR 970 million, followed by the German Bundesliga with about EUR 800 million, the Italian Serie A with EUR 700 million, and the French Ligue 1 with EUR 400 million. Manchester City are on track to see a EUR 412 million drop in player values, with Barcelona right behind with a potential loss of EUR 366 million. Following suit are Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Paris Saint-Germain (EUR 353 million, EUR 350 million, EUR 302 million in losses, respectively).

Miloš Velebit, Director of the Academy of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan and Main Coordinator of Azerbaijan’s junior national teams, concurs with these numbers, pointing out that the situation will definitely affect the downsizing of the already staggering multi-million contracts and budgets of professional players and teams. “This will result in narrowing the wide gap between the super wealthy Western European clubs and those coming from Eastern Europe. This scenario could have a positive effect. It was getting a bit boring to watch the same teams in the finals of European competitions. Evidently, professional teams will suffer some financial losses, but in a year or two they will recover everything they lost through revenues from broadcasting rights, viewers, sponsorships... However, the consequences in amateur teams could turn out to be much more drastic. In essence, even after corona, it will not matter who is playing and what is the result — in the end the soccer wins.... And as Liverpool's famous coach Bill Shankly would say, ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death I assure you, it's much more serious than that,’” Velebit notes.

Almost simultaneously, the drama kicked off across the Atlantic in the most popular basketball league in the world — the NBA. After the Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19, the NBA became the first professional league to cancel all competitions indefinitely. Soon after, the NCAA championships were also canceled. Losses are numbering in millions of dollars (some say around 916 million).

For every game that is not played, the average NBA player loses around EUR 366,000. The NBA announced on its website that as part of the coronavirus pandemic countermeasures, player salaries will be reduced by 25 percent as of May 15.

The fastest circus in the world, Formula One, canceled races mid-April when the McLaren team leaders announced that some of their members tested positive for coronavirus. This will lead to Group F1 losing about 45% of its market value on the stock market.

Other mass sporting events have also suffered the same fate, with the London Marathon postponed for October 4 and the Boston Marathon possibly to be held on September 14. Marathons in Amsterdam, Paris, and Barcelona have also been put off. Wimbledon 2020 will be canceled, which will be the first cancellation since World War II. Roland-Garros is moved to the end of September. The Tour de France, the biggest event in the cycling calendar, is held over by two months.

The biggest event is most certainly the postponement of the Olympics for next year. This has never happened in the history of the Olympic Games during peacetime. Since the first Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896, the world’s largest sporting event was held every four years with the exception of 1916 on account of World War I, as well as 1940 and 1944 because of World War II. Outside of the breaks due to war, to date nothing has ever prevented the world’s best athletes from crossing swords in myriad disciplines, but the uninterrupted Olympic years have now been brought to a halt by coronavirus.

Sport climbing was also supposed to be a new discipline at the Olympics this year. However, this was postponed too, of course, and the sport, as well as all those related (alpinism, dry tooling), has been hit by the pandemic’s negative consequences. According to Katarina Manovski, sport climber, mountaineer, and professor of physical education and sports, the coronavirus pandemic is affecting every segment of a professional athlete's life. “These events are affecting not only the athletes but also all the adjacent staff who make up the sports system — doctors, physical therapists, coaches, selectors, the media, event organizers... Athletes are prevented from doing what they do best, training and winning medals. Most athletes and recreationalists quickly adapted and continued their workouts at home. For athletes, now is the time to work on some things that there is never time for otherwise because of the high volume of competitions,” Katarina Manovski notes.

Still, not everything is so bleak. At the moment, the gaming industry is turning a good profit amidst all this, with virtual matches being held in boxing and other sports played by well-known athletes from across the world from their homes with #stayhome. Formula One streamed its first ever Virtual Grand Prix, complete with a team of commentators and guests. Celebrities — including singer Liam Payne and racing driver and former track cyclist Sir Chris Hoy — raced against each other and in teams from their own homes, in isolation.

For what is sport if not fighting and winning? Even in situations like the pandemic caused by COVID-19.

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