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The rippling effects COVID-19 has had on athletics.

COVID-19 has shaken the world, affecting over 200 countries and territories, causing global economy devastation. From hospitality through to retail, construction, aviation, engineering and more, COVID-19 has left no sector untouched as it’s created rippling waves of concern and uncertainty amongst the masses. For the first time since World War II, the sporting industry has also fallen victim to the pandemic, with empty arenas and postponed games resulting in the once considered ‘crisis-proof’ sporting economy taking its biggest yet, financial hit. The sporting industry now faces incalculable financial challenges, as revenue is lost through an accumulative loss of ticket sales, missed sponsorship deals, and a fast, steady decline in stock values.

Barcelona’s game with Las Palmas was played in an empty stadium because of unrest in Catalonia ALBERT GEA/REUTERS

In March, Lionel Messi announced he and fellow FC Barcelona players would take a 70% pay cut throughout the suspension of La Liga, and less than just one week after winning the FA Cup to secure their place in next seasons’ Europa League, Arsenal announced plans to cut over 50 staff, as a result of the financial impact of the growing global pandemic. Of course, while football stadiums emptied, and the astro-turf was left unspoiled, other sporting professionals also resigned themselves to an inevitable stretch of inactivity.

The National Basketball Association suspended their season following a positive coronavirus test from Utah Jazz player, Rudy Gobert, and the 2019-20 Alpine Ski World Cup ended abruptly earlier this year, meaning races scheduled for Sweden, Slovenia and Italy were all cancelled. Though perhaps one of the most significant events to shake the world of athletic sport was the postponement of the much awaited and anticipated Tokyo 2020 Olympic games – a difficult and urgent decision that paved the end of rigorous training schedules for many hopeful athletes, and disgruntled the thousands of fans who were excitedly planning to attend.

In the earliest quarter of this year, there were no confirmed plans to cancel the games, with the development of COVID-19 still relatively unknown. It wasn’t until the outbreak became a public health emergency that threatened the safety and well-being of citizens on a global level, that the decision to postpone both the summer games and Paralympics, was announced. In just one brief joint statement from the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the ambitious hopes of clutching gold, silver and bronze at this years’ prestigious sporting event became an unattainable goal for the passionate athletes who had spent months, maybe even years preparing for their moment of glory.

As we start to phase into the Autumn months, we are left still with empty stadiums and pre-recordings of crowd noise broadcast out to avid fans now watching on screens. Clubs, divisions and franchises are still left unsure of what the near future holds, and athletes and sporting professionals are chasing after the first strand of normality that may be offered to them. Shockwaves like this are unknown territory to today’s sporting industry and the rippling effects of COVID-19 are likely to still be felt for a prolonged period of time. Athletes are making difficult personal decisions, as many choose to retire short of their last ever Olympic games, whilst others chase the pursuit of success by committing to at least another year of hard graft and dedication to participate at Tokyo 2021.

Representational image (Photo: AP)

From cycling, through to fencing, golf, tennis, basketball and boxing – not a single person nor any one sport under the athletic umbrella, has been gifted immunity from the full force of COVID-19. Recovery from this will not be swift, it will be a prolonged process of rebuilding an industry that has never before, been so threatened. Making the switch from ticket sales and match-day income, the sporting industry has been prompted to adjust to new revenue-driving ventures, capitalising on media consumption by broadcasting classic games, documentaries and a vast array of pre-released content in a bid to engage consumers and entertain fans. For athletes themselves, it will be a test of patience where their experience, depth of knowledge, and profound adaptability will be heavily relied upon along the way.

How the sporting industry will look in the future is still unknown, but undoubtedly the quick-thinking actions implemented by those who keep the wheels spinning, will have secured a successful recovery. Fans have united, and true to their loyalty to the athletes they admire and the teams they support, they are more keen than ever to see the return of regular sporting activity.

In the meantime, it’s a long road ahead that will certainly present with many difficult challenges but with cohesive, strategic plans in place, the sporting industry is likely to emerge from this situation more popular than it has ever been.


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