We are in an interesting period in the sporting calendar. Many international sports have reached the halfway point of the season, with many competitions slowing down before teams make the last push for success. However, in Australia, two of the largest sporting codes are just beginning, and that is where we start with our Top 5 Sporting Moments of the Week!
5. The NRL and AFL are back! Last week, the National Rugby League started its competition, and it was the heavyweights who started strong. The Roosters, Panthers and Raiders (teams expected to make the finals) completed dominant performance, while other teams such as the Sea Eagles and Cowboys will have to make some quick changes to avoid being stuck at the bottom of the ladder. The AFL season also kicked off on Thursday night, with the Richmond Tigers, led by star Dustin Martin, holding off the Carlton Blues in the perfect start to their Premiership defence.
4. The Formula One Season started in Bahrain this year, with only three days of testing for each team to check their car’s reliability, try out new parts, and see where they sit against their competition. The Red Bull team, with drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, took advantage of the gearbox issues on the Mercedes car to set encouraging times and tease fans about the possibility of a close championship race this season. The McLaren team also looked strong, with new driver Daniel Ricciardo fitting straight in and setting the fastest time in the first session. Along with thousands of other F1 fans, I have one wish for this season, a close championship battle. It doesn’t matter who; we are just praying for competitive racing.
3. The NBA MVP Race Heats Up. Lebron, Jokic, Embiid or Harden. The competition for NBA’s Most Valuable Player award is as close as ever, and there is little to separate the 4 leading candidates halfway through the season. Embiid has been exceptional for the Philadelphia 76ers, leading them to the top of the Eastern Conference. However, it seems like Harden and Jokic are scoring triple-doubles every game, keeping Embiid within range. And, who could ever count out the great Lebron James. My prediction? I’ll stay true to the 76ers and go with Embiid.
2. Messi and Ronaldo BOTH knocked out in the Champions League. For the first time in 16 years, neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi will play a part in the Champions League’s quarter-finals after both of their respective teams, Juventus and Barcelona, were knocked out of the tournament at the last-16 stage. This could be signalling the end of two of sport’s greatest icons, with football’s future taking their place. Although it’s a transition period, Messi and Ronaldo are still performing at an exceptionally high quality and will continue to dominate the game as long as they decide to keep playing.
1. New Zealand win the America’s Cup! If you had asked me what the America’s Cup was 2 weeks ago, I would’ve said something like, “some sort of sailing race?”. However, after watching the event take place in New Zealand over the past week, I have been hooked and engaged in every moment. Emirates Team New Zealand, who were the defending champions, took on Italy’s Luna Rossa and won the best of 13 event, 7-3. It was an unpredictable opening few days of the event, but New Zealand showed their class by winning 4 races in a row, sealing a superb victory.
Feature Article: How Sport Survived the Pandemic
There was no guide. No handbook with instructions. Sports organisations were left to their own to find a path through the pandemic that could keep their organisations alive. Initially, a small break in each competition’s season seemed most likely, but as the global health crisis worsened, sporting groups began to realise that they would be spending months on the sidelines.
Organisers of events such as the Tokyo Olympic Games, Wimbledon, The British Open, Rugby Tournaments and countless mass-participation community events waited until the very last second to postpone or cancel their events. There was a hope that things would dramatically turn around, but come May, there was a genuine understanding by all organisers that there was no quick solution to the ever-increasing pandemic.
Then came some of the most critical planning meetings these sporting boards will have ever had. How can sport continue while ensuring the health and safety of players, staff and fans? One of those three had to give, and it was the fans. Sports such as the NBA, NFL, NRL and AFL were able to resume their seasons after lockdown, but only under heavy restrictions. In Australia, the AFL moved their entire competition to a bubble in Queensland. Similarly, the NBA moved their playoffs to Florida, where each team and individual went through a series of checks to ensure the playing bubble’s integrity.
The restrictions were immense, and the consequences for failing to abide by the new guidelines were substantial; however, it enabled these competitions to continue. I remember watching one of the first live sporting events to take place after the first lockdown. UFC 249. Dana White has been one of the most proactive sporting organisers during the pandemic, and this event was incredible. After weeks of no live sport, this event’s entertainment was a fantastic experience, albeit still at my home. Nevertheless, Dana White and the UFC set a precedent, it will take extra time and more money, but sport can still operate in 2020. (If you’d like to read my full thoughts on the courage of the UFC during 2020, you can find it here: https://thelevinelowdown.com/2020/10/04/the-sports-roundup-week-9-the-courage-of-the-ufc/)
Certain sports even had to alter some of their rules to allow play to continue. In cricket, the ICC created a ‘saliva’ rule’ to stop players from using bodily fluids when shining the ball. Although this may have a minor impact on bowlers, it was considered appropriate as it allowed the game to be played with minimal hygiene concerns. Another new part of sport which we all witnessed was the banning of handshakes and ‘team embracement (hugging)’. Tennis players now touch racquets over the net, football players touch elbows and players on an NBA bench have to sit distanced and wear masks. Nowadays, it seems normal, but in June 2020, these were significant changes, and we must acknowledge these organisations for being willing to alter the game and the players for, largely, observing these changes.
Sport adapted, altered and proactively changed their rules and procedures to allow the games to continue. There was a teething process, but now, our sporting calendar is back to normal, and the restrictions which were once considered invasive are now merely a part of everyday life.
‘The crowd was roaring! It was the 60th minute of the NRL game. I stood in the middle of the field on the 5th tackle and kicked the ball for the touchline (the forward pack was tired, and we were ahead 24-2). Black. Complete darkness. Was I knocked out? Did someone tackle me after I kicked the ball? Then, the lights slowly started to peep out of their covers. I turned my head to the sideline, everyone standing apart with a weird cloth over their face. I look to the grandstands, gone. No people. No seats. No structure. Play continued, and slowly, the land where the grandstand was began to fill with screens. One by one, screens filled each row of the destroyed stadium with only the actions of individual jumping in their living rooms.’
A silent atmosphere.
Sport in a pandemic.