The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown imposed to contain it have made the past few months painfully slow for sports fans. The sporting world does finally seem to be emerging from hibernation though, as a number of leagues around the world resume, but things have not quite gone back to normal for most of them.
Soccer was one of the first sports to start up again and it was the German Bundesliga leading the way. This league returned to action in mid-May, but with the games being played behind closed doors with no fans present. The same strategy was subsequently adopted by the English Premier League and Italy’s La Liga as the final few matches of the 2019/20 season got underway in the middle of June. All of these countries are rigorously testing players and staff for Covid-19 and employing audio effects, inanimate fake ‘supporters’ and other strategies to distract from the absence of the crowds.
Golf is another sport that restarted last month, with the PGA Tour event the Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas being the first post-Covid-19 tournament. As with other sports, Golf had been put on hold since the severity of the virus became clear back in March and the PGA Tour is also operating behind closed doors at the moment. The hope is to allow spectators back as soon as possible, but with the 2019/20 and 2020/21 PGA Tours set to virtually run into one another, few fans will mind if it is next season before that actually happens.
NASCAR is a sport that opted for an early return, having been suspended for 10 weeks, with the first race after its resumption taking place at Darlington, South Carolina on 17th May. It happened minus the fans, although 6.32 million watched it live on TV. Since then, the sport has been bolder than any other by allowing some fans back – with 1,000 NASCAR enthusiasts allowed in to watch the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the middle of June. This is something other sports will be watching closely.
The NHL has not started playing competitive matches yet, but it has agreed a framework for how the 2019/20 season will be completed. The games in the regular season that were left to play when the league was suspended in March have been abandoned and 24 teams will compete in the play-offs behind closed doors. The planned return of professional ice hockey moved into phase 2 on 8th June, with players being allowed to resume training, although with Tampa Bay Lightning having to shut down again after Covid-19 cases flared up, finishing the season will be a challenge.
These examples show the different pace at which various sports are getting back into action, with behind closed doors play being the favored way forward for most at the moment. With the exception of NASCAR, US sports leagues are lagging behind and fans are desperate for positive news.
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