The enduring appeal of sport has lit up 2021 but the pandemic remains a tough opponent

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Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Handball – Women – Quarter Final – Sweden v South Korea – Yoyogi National Stadium – Tokyo, Japan – August 4, 2021. A staff member cleans the floor above the Tokyo Olympics logo 2020 REUTERS / Siphiwe Sibeko

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LONDON, December 13 (Reuters) – The world of sports teetered in 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic raged and while it would be an exaggeration to say it ends the year with a sprint, a sense of normalcy came back despite the persistent threat of the virus.

Regardless of what the merchants of doom and the thousands of people in Japan fiercely opposed the staging of the delayed 2020 Olympics, the Games did play out, even though they looked and felt a lot different from any previous edition.

Football stadiums that had gone silent around the world were once again teeming with jubilant supporters, Wimbledon center court came back to life as the world’s most iconic tennis event returned after a year of absence and the Crowds marched on the fairways as hostilities resumed in the Ryder Cup golf course.

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The action grew dense and swift as the narrative shifted from decimating COVID-19 events to athletic success and, sadly, the most uneducating belly in sport – greed, politics, discrimination and doping.

When in March last year, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics became the first Games to be canceled for reasons other than war, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) predicted that their organization would be a year late. would become a “light of hope” for the human race after much of normal life has come to a standstill.

Yet, by the time tennis player Naomi Osaka lit the flame on July 23, Tokyo was still under COVID emergency measures and 70% of the Japanese public were opposed to the Games.

Spectators were barred from entering Tokyo venues and athletes had to follow draconian rules in a 33-page “playbook”, making normal life in the Olympic Village impossible.

It says a lot about their skill and dedication, however, that the 11,000 or so competitors at the Olympics and 4,500 at the Paralympics have made sport a shining light in the dark.

TV fans around the world marveled when dynamic new sports such as skateboarding, freestyle BMX, speed climbing and surfing brought new intrigue to their living rooms.

As the moment high jumpers Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi agreed to share gold at the end of a thrilling competition in which they couldn’t be parted, the cynics would have even had the foggy eyes.

NEW VARIANT

No sooner had the flame gone out in Tokyo, however, that a Winter Olympics loomed under the growing shadow of a new variant of COVID-19 and politics with a diplomatic boycott of the centerpiece. of Beijing gaining ground.

While no fans were present in Tokyo, crowds returned throughout the year elsewhere.

Although it was by no means a smooth process.

The fragility of the situation was revealed when the Australian Open tennis tournament was delayed in February when fans were banned for five days mid-tournament after Melbourne was instantly locked out while matches last month Davis Cup finals in Vienna went without fans after an upsurge in infections.

Europe’s big football leagues have been played largely without fans in the 2020-21 season, punching a hole in clubs’ balance sheets, with Barcelona blaming the pandemic for losses of € 481m ($ 543m) during the exercise.

The second-biggest event of the year, the delayed Euro 2020 soccer championship, took place in 11 host cities from Baku to Seville as mostly modest crowds watched the group matches with various COVID-19 restrictions in place .

But on a rainy night in London on July 11, 67,000 fans gathered at Wembley with tens of thousands on the outside as England faced Italy in the final.

What should have been a night of celebration turned sour, however, as pent-up emotions of England’s long wait to reach a final and more than a year of lockdown exploded into scenes of fuel-fueled chaos alcohol described in a report this month as a day of national shame.

And as a warning, the final in which Italy beat England on penalties later turned out to have been a ‘super-broadcaster’ of COVID-19 with data suggesting more than 5,000 people have been infected in and around Wembley Stadium.

The year has ended with society and sport tackling a disturbing new variant of COVID and sporting bodies will anxiously watch over the next few weeks as the virus refuses to be defeated.

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Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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