Ten things we have learnt about sport in 2020 ...

2020 was a sporting year like no other with events cancelled and empty stadiums being the new normal.

By Simon Carter
Tuesday, 29th December 2020, 3:42 pm
Referee Kevin Friend and Liverpool's Mohamed Salah take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter. Pic: Clive Brunskill/PA Wire
Referee Kevin Friend and Liverpool's Mohamed Salah take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter. Pic: Clive Brunskill/PA Wire

Here, The News looks at 10 things we have learned about sport during an unprecedented 12 months.

Taking a stand against racism counts

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May sparked anti-racism protests across the world. No sport was untouched as athletes showed solidarity by taking a knee before events. This followed the example set by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took the knee in 2016 to protest against racism and police brutality across the United States. Though there have been examples of supporters booing at EFL games when players take the knee, the stance seems certain to stay in elite sport for a while yet.

Tyson Fury, left, could fight Anthony Joshua in 2021. Photos by RINGO CHIU and FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP via Getty Images.

Big events are missed

Events fell like dominoes in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic took a heavy toll on the sporting calendar around the globe. Tennis fans missed out on Wimbledon and golf’s Open Championship was also cancelled as sport-lovers looked on with regret. Cricket’s controversial The Hundred tournament - featuring franchises playing 100-ball-an-innings matches - was also mothballed for a year, but traditionalists weren’t so sad about that! Others events such as football’s European Championship and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were delayed for 12 months in the hope that they would eventually go ahead in 2021.

Sport is nothing without fans

TV companies did their best to make up for the lack of atmosphere in empty stadiums and arenas by piping in crowd noise for the viewer. Manchester City also had a bank of screens behind one of the goals showing live fan reaction. But in a year when face coverings were prevalent, the gimmicks could not mask the cold truth that sport is a soulless affair without fans. Supporters began returning to ‘elite’ football grounds in early December, but the Government’s tougher tier measures mean only two Premier League clubs - Liverpool and Everton - can welcome them at the moment.

Anfield is one of only two Premier League grounds currently able to welcome supporters. Photo by Nick Potts - Pool/Getty Images.

Thinking outside the box works

Covid-19 created huge problems over venues, but organisers stepped up to protect broadcasting rights and provide fans with entertainment. Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn staged fight camps throughout August and bio-secure bubbles became one of the buzz phrases of 2020. Sports teams were housed on site and the England cricket team spent their summer at Old Trafford and Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl, two venues able to accommodate players and staff in every sense of the word.

Hamilton influence knows no bounds

Lewis Hamilton remained the king of the Formula One grid with his seventh world title - including six in the last seven years - equalling Michael Schumacher’s all-time title haul. Hamilton also set a new record of 95 career wins and generated as many headlines off the track. Hamilton was at the forefront of the fight against racism by taking the knee on the grid and was praised for urging F1 bosses to act on those countries hosting races with poor human rights records.

Big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau won the US Open by six shots. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images.

Klopp’s the undisputed king of the Kop

Liverpool had waited 30 years to be crowned champions of England and move within one of Manchester United’s record 20 domestic titles. So it was a cruel irony that the Covid-19 pandemic prevented their supporters from attending Anfield’s title party. But Jurgen Klopp’s hero status on the red half of Merseyside was safe, with Premier League glory - by an 18-point margin following 32 wins in 38 games - added to the Champions League title won in 2019. The Reds are again top of the table as I write.

Golf’s growing power game

Bryson DeChambeau piled on the pounds and driving yardage to become the biggest talking point in golf. DeChambeau hit the ball so far off the tee that some courses were at risk of being reduced to pitch and putt venues. The American made light of tight fairways and thick rough to win September’s US Open by six shots and trigger a debate over where the game was headed and what could be done to curb the power merchants.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates a Grand Prix win in 2020. Photo by Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images.

Rugby union left reeling

Rugby’s ticking timebomb exploded in December when England’s World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson and other former internationals announced planned legal action over negligence. The group claimed the rugby authorities failed to protect them from the risks caused by concussion and left them living with the consequences of brain injuries. With more players expected to come forward and highlight their own personal issues, rugby union faces the prospect of costly and damaging lawsuits in 2021.

Joshua v Fury must happen

Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury both posted impressive wins in 2020 as a potentially explosive Battle of Britain inched closer. In February, Fury knocked out Deontay Wilder in the seventh round in Las Vegas to win the WBC heavyweight title. Joshua finished the year by successfully defending his WBA, WBO and IBF belts with a ninth-round knockout victory over Kubrat Pulev in London. 2021 will hopefully be the year when the talk of a mega-fight stops and Joshua and Fury meet in the ring.

Scotland can join the party

Fatboy Slim was at number one and Tony Blair was British Prime Minister the last time Scotland graced a major tournament at the 1998 World Cup in France. But 22 years of hurt were wiped away in October when David Marshall saved Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty for a 5-4 sudden death win over Serbia and a place at next summer’s delayed Euro 2020 finals. Better still, Scotland will be guests at their own party with two group games at Hampden Park, as well as a Wembley trip to play England.