March 2020 marked the end of live sport for a period no-one could have foreseen as the full impact of Covid-19 in the UK took hold.
Dealing with lockdown and the implications of the pandemic has been a sobering time for all with welfare of family and friends the No1 priority. At the same time a craving to get back to some sort of normality has been understandable and in sport there are green shoots of live action across multiple sports. The road back post-lockdown will not be a short one, but the journey to spectator sport 2.0 has most definitely begun.
Last week’s Aberdeen Standard Investment Ladies Scottish Open marked a return for women’s sport in Scotland which continues this week at Royal Troon in Ayrshire where the world’s best female golfers take to the fairways for the AIG Women’s Open. Meanwhile a new season of men’s football is underway courtesy of the SPFL Premiership with the Championship, League 1 & L2 confirmed for kick-off on 17 October and the women’s game – in the shape of the SWPL – starting back a day later on 18 October.
In rugby union Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors lock horns shortly in an 1872 Cup back-to-back showdown at BT Murrayfield with Women’s Six Nations action confirmed for the weekend of 24 October (venue tbc) as Scotland belatedly finish their home matches with a showdown against France.
For horse racing fans the return of the sport of kings has seen meetings take place at Musselburgh, Ayr and Perth Racecourse with the latter looking forward to hosting Perth Gold Cup day on 30 August in front of the ITV cameras for the first time.
While all action currently taking place behind closed doors it’s a case of watch this space for the the return of spectators at venues, the Scottish government having set 14 September as a tentative date for when limited crowds could return to sporting events with the situation under review.
In London it’s been a case of two steps forward and one step back with pilot events earlier in August (facilitating a limited number of spectators) short-lived, however further pilots are due to resume shortly in anticipation (all being well) of a wider return of crowds from 1 October with social distancing measures in place.
Cricket, if in a bio-bubble, has already seen international and club men’s matches aplenty with Lord’s set to host a series of Vitality T20 Blast matches in September before hosting the final of the Bob Willis Trophy between 23-27 September. Meanwhile in the women’s game The Rachel Heyhoe Flint Trophy – a month-long 50-over domestic competition taking place from August Bank Holiday through until the final on Saturday 26 September – will see eight regions made up of elite county players take part.
Boxing is another sport that has caught the eye in the capital with BT Sport Studios in the Olympic Park and #FightCamp at the newly named ‘Matchroom Square Gardens’ in Brentwood vying for attention. The latter series reaching a finale on 22 August with a bill featuring Irish superstar and undisputed lightweight world champion Katie Taylor and a showdown between two men with aspirations on the heavyweight world title, Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin.
The end of July saw the completion of the men’s domestic football season with a new 2020/2021 Premier League and EFL season due to start in September. In women’s football a brand new WSL campaign kicks off on 6 September while in rugby union the 2020 Gallagher Premiership season has resumed with the final rescheduled for Saturday 24 October at Twickenham. In women’s rugby the Premier 15s teams are back in training with news on a start date for competitive action awaited. And not to be outdone in basketball the London Lions have put together arguably their strongest roster as they prepare for their debut appearance in the Basketball Champions League at the end of September ahead of a new BBL season.
As is the case in Scotland in London it’s largely a waiting game on spectators with the situation fluid. All eyes are looking out for the latest government guidelines for news on pilot events and an update on the state of play for spectators at events as from 1 October.
One thing is for sure. Nothing beats the absolute reality of being at a venue watching the action unfold live. And for athletes performing on stage to empty galleries it’s an experience not to savour. We may all need to be patient for the return of spectator sport 2.0 across the spectrum, however the good news is there is light at the end of the sporting tunnel.