Anyone else excited about the return of live sport? Anjum Ali Saiyad, a twenty-something student based in London, certainly is. He’s a regular blogger and a huge sports fan. Here, he gives us his take on the return of live sports events around the world.
2020 was all set to be an incredible year of sport. A great Premier League season wrapping up. The European Championships. The Tokyo Olympics. Wimbledon. A long hot summer of cricket. But thanks to Covid-19, it has been a washout.
The UK Government is now allowing live sport to return. And many sports have successfully done so, while others are still adjusting to the new reality. So as a big sports fan Anjum, what’s your reaction to what you’ve seen so far?
Live sports are back!
“My biggest takeaway from the return of live sports is that it has reminded us all just how important we are as fans,” says Anjum. “Watching a Premier League game without the crowd is a strange experience. Even seeing the empty seats at the Snooker World Championships, or at Ascot, reminds us how much sport needs its fans.
“Watching sport can feel like a one-way relationship, with fans paying a fortune to support teams who don’t really care. Hopefully this has shown just how important fans are.”
Anjum’s take is that some sports have been more successful at adapting to the new conditions than others. Here’s his sport-by-sport guide.
“Even though the Premier League season is over, there’s still plenty to look forward to,” says Anjum. “The new Scottish Premiership season is already up and running. The early stages of the Europa League are also underway. And if that doesn’t excite you, then remember it’s only about 30 days until the Premier League starts again!
“I think the restart of the Premier League was a real success, despite the strange circumstances. The lack of crowds was weird. But having football back sent an important message to the country that things are slowly getting back to normal.
“The quality was high, despite the time off, and it was a thrilling end to the season. Liverpool had it wrapped up, but the race for European places and Premier League survival was still gripping. Other than Liverpool, the big winners were Villa who stayed up on the last day. The biggest losers were Leicester, whose form slumped badly at the end.”
“I’m a huge cricket fan,” says Anjum. “I can’t imagine a summer without it. So it’s been great to see it return. I loved watching England’s well-deserved Test series win against the West Indies. It was typical England really – to lose the first Test and then come back! And we’ve now got an exciting three-game series against Pakistan to enjoy.
“Again, I think cricket has done a good job of returning, so far. There are a few differences of course (run deductions for saliva on the ball, for one!). But one of the most striking changes for me is the appearance of sponsors on Test whites. It’s a sign of how the sport is trying to recoup some of the financial impact of Covid-19.”
“For me, the return of NBA basketball in the US has been a triumph,” says Anjum. “Every sport is different, of course. And it has been a tough year for basketball, with the death of Kobe Bryant. But I think that the NBA has managed the restart very well.
“The teams are now in a bio-bubble, playing out the rest of the season in Orlando, Florida. The games have been close and exciting, with a number of teams battling for a play off place. I’ve even enjoyed the virtual fan wall at the side of the court. My only issue is with the whistle-happy referees, but I guess they are a little out of practice too!”
Horse racing has also made a comeback in recent weeks.
“The authorities have done a great job of keeping jockeys and owners safe since the restart. And events like Royal Ascot were a relative success,” says Anjum. “We saw some great racing, including a 70th Ascot win for Frankie Dettori.
“But I think racing is one of the sports that has really suffered from a lack of fans. The crowds make the sport. That roar down the home straight, the crazy hats and the party atmosphere on a sunny day. There is nothing like the feeling of race day itself.”
“To outsiders, snooker seems to be a sport where the fans are less important,” says Anjum. “But they actually make a big difference to the experience. Watching the World Snooker Championships on TV, I’ve missed that background hum of the crowd. It doesn’t feel the same without applause for a great break, or an ‘ooh’ at a missed pot. The referees also say it’s a little harder to officiate from a distance. They’re used to being over the shoulder of the player.
“That aside, the sport has coped well with the restart. The quality of play at The Crucible has been excellent. There are few differences – we’re seeing elbow bumps between players and a Perspex screen between their seats. But other than that it has been a successful return for the sport.”
Finally, the return of Formula 1 is another success story. The season started with a reduced schedule of races, and strict rules in place to keep everyone safe.
“F1 is a sport where a lot goes on behind the scenes to make it happen,” says Anjum. “Of course, the teams have vast resources. But it has been impressive to see how proactive the sport has been to get things running again. There are no crowds, lots of social distancing measures, regular testing and slimmed down racing teams.
“Lewis Hamilton is as immaculate as ever, and it’s hard to see anyone catching him. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was the perfect advert for the sport. Lots of thrills and spills out on the track, including a last lap tyre blow out for Hamilton. He held on for the win, eventually crossing the line with a flat tyre.”
As more live sports return to our screens, fans have lots to look forward to over the coming months. The Champions League final takes place on 23 August. The delayed Tour de France runs through September. And athletics fans can look forward to an elites-only London Marathon in October.
Most live sports have done an excellent job of restarting. Like Anjum, we’ve got our fingers crossed that the other great live sports events coming up are just as successful.
Anjum has been busy blogging about living through lockdown. If you’re a sports fan looking for a new way to enjoy a different kind of competition, then take a look at his recent post on getting into esports tournaments.