Tag Archives: Olympics

COVID-19 puts the Sports World in an Extended Timeout

The world of professional baseball has been dark since March. Discussions are underway to return players to the ballparks in a shortened, fan-free season. Photo R. Anderson

Thanks to the arrival of the COVID-19 virus, for many people right now it feels like up is down, and down is up. The virus has also introduced new terms like, social distancing and contact tracing into our vocabularies. As part of its destructive path into everyday life COVID-19 has caused the world of sports to grind to a halt as player and fan safety was given the proper level of respect.

The COVID-19 outbreak tested leagues in a way that many sports had never experienced. Social distancing requirements, as well as limits on crowd size, led to the cancellations of the XFL, NBA, NHL and almost all other sports leagues. On April 10, 2020 the XFL announced it had suspended operations indefinitely and laid off all league employees due in part to financial losses as a result of COVID-19.

The Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo were delayed by at least a year.  All NCAA spring sports tournaments, including the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments were cancelled. Major League Baseball ended Spring Training early, and delayed the start of the season. The leagues that continued to hold competitions did so without fans in attendance as they tried to balance social responsibility with the public’s appetite for live sports.

With most major sports leagues shutdown due to COVID-19, sports fans looked for any port in the storm to quench their thirst for live competition. The American Cornhole League provided many fans with just such an outlet.
Photo R. Anderson

Before going any further, it is important to note that shutting down mass gatherings, like sporting events, was the right call.

One need only look at the amount of cases that spread out from a convention in Boston to know how quickly the virus can spread to know that mass gatherings are simply not prudent at this juncture. Even with social distancing, the number of cases, and the number of fatalities continue to rise. Were sports allowed to continue in full stadiums and arenas, there is little doubt that the case and death count would be much higher.

It should also be said that the inconvenience of not having live sports to watch is trivial compared to the real effects of COVID-19 that many people are facing across the world through losses of jobs and in extreme cases losses of loved ones.

Although the major sporting leagues have been shutdown for nearly two months, there are rumblings building to resume sports, albeit in empty stadiums without fans. NASCAR, which kept fans entertained through simulated races, is set to resume racing in empty tracks on May 17, 2020. Five years after the first game in Major League Baseball history was played in Baltimore without fans, MLB is negotiating with the player’s union to try to gain approval to host a truncated 82 game season in empty ballparks starting in July.

NASCAR is set to resume racing without fans in attendance on May 17, 2020. Time will tell whether the fans return for the Daytona 500 in February at Daytona International Speedway.
Photo R. Anderson

All of these efforts to resume sports without fans show a desire for the governing bodies of the respected sports to explore any and all means for the show to go on. This effort to resume is driven in large part so the leagues can recoup some sort of financial payday.

While a return to live sports on television, even sports without fans, would be welcomed by many, one has to ask whether leagues risk diminishing the product by forcing reduced schedules on fans and trying to call it a full season. Should a World Series Champion that only played an 82-game regular season be considered as talented as teams of the past who prevailed over the course of a season that was twice as long?

Additionally, as part of any discussion on the resumption of live sports one must also ask whether players are being put at undue risk by being asked to travel from city to city, and potential virus hot spot to hot spot, just so the show can go on in some form or fashion.

To be clear, like most sports fans, I miss being able to unwind at the end of the day by watching a game on television. However, I am not sure that I miss live sports enough that I am willing to support putting my favorite athletes potentially at risk of catching, or spreading, a virus that currently has no cure just so they can bring me a few hours of entertainment.

As professional sports look at ways to resume during the era of COVID-19 one has to wonder how exactly a football huddle with social distancing would look.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from needing to address player safety as part of any path to resumed competition, leagues must also consider that airing games without fans leagues may hasten the trend of people choosing to watch games from the comfort of home versus battling thousands of people to get to a seat so far from the field that they are basically watching the game on the big screen anyway. Sure, the made for TV sports are better with screaming fans, but there is something to be said for watching at home where the snacks and the bathrooms are both a lot easier to get to.

With NASCAR and MLB looking to get their seasons going, the eyes of the world of sports turn their focus to football. Even if one accepts the prospect of empty football stadiums, it is hard to fathom how players could be in the trenches on the gridiron and not risk exposure to COVID-19.

Exactly how does one huddle with six-feet of separation? Even a scenario where players are wearing masks does not seem feasible. It is hard to think that a wide receiver can run full speed down the sideline wearing a N-95 mask under his face mask. The only possible solution would be to equip all player helmets with a clear shield that covers their mouth and nose, but even that is a stretch.

College Football is one of the sports on the bubble for a return based on a NCAA position on the need for students to be on campus before sports can resume.
Photo R. Anderson

College sports face their own hurdles for resuming in the fall. The NCAA has said that sports will not resume unless on campus classes have also resumed. The implication being that if the college is not deemed safe enough for students to be on, then the athletes should not be expected to have to play there.

There is too much money involved in college football to think that a work around of some sort will not be found to play games if the COVID-19 virus is still running rampant across the country come August. The topic of College Bowl Games and the College Football Playoffs  is another issue that is bound to get a lot of attention in the coming months based on the millions of dollars at stake.

It is entirely possible that the sports landscape will never return to the levels that it was at before the world of sports was shut down by COVID-19. By adopting an attitude that everyone is in this together, those most impacted by the global timeout in sport can better weather the storm. It is crucial to keep in mind that the current situation is also only temporary.

Perhaps James Earl Jones’ character Terence Mann in the movie Field of Dreams said it best when he said “People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Yes, baseball and other sports will resume at some point, and people will indeed come. How many people are allowed to come over the next few years based on social distancing remains to be seen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some masked competitive cornhole to watch on the Ocho followed by some lawnmower racing.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Torch Dimmed by Olympic Surroundings

Tonight marks the Opening Ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Throughout the years Opening Ceremonies are a time for nations from around the world to come together as one before spending the next two and a half weeks as bitter rivals where only three people in each event come away with the metallic prize that they all seek.

So while the next two weeks will be about hard fought competition and trying to secure one’s lifelong dream, tonight the athletes they can just be people enjoying the pomp and circumstance of the world stage.

The Opening Ceremony will feature music, dancing and the parade of Olympic teams from around the world.

The ceremony can also serve as a geography lesson for people watching who may have forgotten certain names of countries.

Another highlight of the ceremony of course is the lighting of the Olympic flame that will burn brightly over the festivities until the closing ceremony where the torch will be passed to the next host country.

The Los Angeles Coliseum has played host to several Summer Olympic games. Time will tell if the venues in Sochi, Russia age as well. Photo R. Anderson
The Los Angeles Coliseum has played host to several Summer Olympic games. Time will tell if the venues in Sochi, Russia age as well.
Photo R. Anderson

While tonight should be all about the beauty and the magic of the Olympics, stories leading up to tonight’s ceremony have painted less than ideal conditions for those in competition and the media there to cover it.

From stories of unfinished accommodations to cruel treatment of stray dogs, there has been no shortage of media tweets and posts about the conditions in Sochi.

There are even reports of phones being hacked and showers being monitored through hidden cameras.

Of course the entire Olympic infrastructure was basically built from scratch for around $20 billion making it by far the most expensive Olympics venue build ever. And anytime that large of a project is undertaken there are bound to be shortcuts taken so the fact that a few things did not get down in time or the way one had hoped should not be a complete surprise.

As for the hacking of phones and the unwanted surveillance goes, I suppose the Olympic Host Committee wanted to give visitors the complete Cold War experience to go along with the games.

Even the venues that were completed in time and to code will have a short life in many cases as almost all Olympic Games venues built for the two weeks in the global spotlight will never be used again following the extinguishing of the Olympic flame.

With so much cost and so little to show for it after the games I have always wondered why countries spend so much effort and money to be an Olympic host city.

Sure there is the pride of saying that one hosted the Olympics but where is that pride after the venues start to crumble from neglect and the citizens are left to wonder whether the money could have been spent in better ways.

While I doubt that this will ever become the case having the Olympics in a central place year after year with a single set of venues would certainly be more economical than reinventing the wheel every two years.

But as long as there is a clout associated with hosting the games countries will continue to compete to be selected as a host city to then spend their billions of dollars on venues in the hopes of at least breaking even when all of the fans flock to see the games.

While some venues and accommodations failed to be 100 percent ready for the games to their credit NBC will do their best over the next two weeks to highlight the positives of the Olympic Games despite all of the negatives that have come to light in recent days.

After all NBC spends a lot of money on the Olympics so they have a vested interest in making sure people tune in to support their advertisers.

There will be countless human interest stories and time delayed coverage of events sprinkled along the prime time viewing hours. And yes there will also be stories about the lack of shower curtains or the toxic water with the do not use to bathe warnings.

I am sure that many of the journalists covering the games did not think they would be reporting games in a war zone type situation. Maybe instead of sending Bob Costas to the games NBC should have sent veteran war correspondents Wolf Blitzer and Peter Arnett since they are likely more used to reporting from places with no shower curtains and other amenities.

When all is said and done the lack of shower curtains and other creature comforts will not affect the performance from the athletes or the media members covering them.

In fact there could even be some people who have never seen a shower curtain so the lack of one is not a big deal.

But the fact that the issues are being brought up begs the question regarding what exactly was bought with that $20 billion investment in the games. For the answer to that I am sure there is a NBC report detailing it all.

I will likely watch the opening ceremony tonight and then tune out the rest of the Olympics and just follow the medal count online since I am not a fan of watching time delayed sports where the outcome is already known.

As far as Russia goes, I am scheduled to be there in May so I hope they find some shower curtains by then so I don’t have to bring my own.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Olympic sized Opening Ceremony snacks to make.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson