How Sports are Adapting During Lockdown

April 20, 2020
James Sephton

While professional sports clubs and associations are utilising the free time of their stars to engage with fans while sport is on-hold (see my previous blog), many are now adapting to provide some sort of competition and whet the appetite of the action-starved sporting public before normality is restored. I’ve highlighted my favourites and will look on with interest to see how sports continue to evolve during lockdown.

Top ‘new’ sports

Horse Racing – Virtual Grand National

We may have lost out on the annual office sweepstake but the biggest date in the jump racing calendar wasn’t totally lost with the running of the stats-based Virtual Grand National. While virtual racing just isn’t cricket during normality it did manage to excite the most ardent of racing fans, Performance’s Charlie Raincock among them. You can read his blog on the subject here.

Nearly five million tuned into ITV to see 18-1 shot Potters Corner take the glory. I had a fiver each way on Definitely Red and am pleased to say that the money is part of the £2.6million raised for NHS Charities Together. Bravo.

Skateboarding – Virtual National Championships

Rather than cancel the National Championships at the end of March, Skateboard England asked competitors to film their tricks and enter through Instagram with the hashtag #VirtualNationalChamps. Ten-year-old Roxana Howlett from Devon took the title following a social media vote. This was a nicely executed innovation from Skateboard England that secured a multitude of media coverage and eyeballs normally allocated to more popular sports.

Motor Racing – Esports Virtual F1 Grand Prix

Formula 1, as you might well expect, has taken things to another level, with the introduction of the Esports Virtual Grand Prix. While races are cancelled, the pro drivers are battling it out on the virtual track to see who has the best driving skills. Red Bull even offered a seat to ambassador Ben Stokes in the Australian Grand Prix. Unfortunately practice didn’t make perfect as he finished in last place.

American Football – The NFL Draft

The NFL off-season is incredibly long, the first week of January through to early September if you don’t make the play-offs. The Coronavirus pandemic arrived in the off-season so the new season may well start on time. With this in mind the annual NFL Draft has not been re-scheduled. While 500,000 spectators attended in 2019, the 2020 draft will take place remotely with a virtual draft to ensure the NFL is ready for action come September.

Football – FIFA 20 Ultimate QuaranTeam Tournament

Organised by League Two’s Leyton Orient the FIFA 20 tournament incorporated 128 clubs and saw the likes of Andros Townsend (Crystal Palace) and Todd Cantwell (Norwich) representing their clubs on the virtual pitch. Live streamed on Twitch, the final saw Wolves beat FC Groningen 2-1 and raise over £50,000 for charity.

Those that haven’t adapted

Belarus – Football and Ice Hockey

Well, only time will tell if he was right but unbelievably the Belarusian President has said there is no need to panic. The Belarusian football and ice hockey leagues are continuing, and fans are free to attend.

MMA – Ultimate Fighting Championship

For a while the president of the UFC, Dana White, was looking to secure a private island to host UFC 249 on 18th April. I’m not sure how it was going to work but it certainly got people talking, excited at the prospect of live sport returning, whatever its guise. Almost inevitably the event was cancelled, though Dana continues to talk positively about events taking place during the pandemic.

So, what’s next? The PDC Home Tour is an exciting innovation for darts, a sport that evidently can still work with players competing remotely, and kicked off last Friday and will run for 32 nights. Team GB has also joined forces with TikTok to launch the Isolation Games, a series of challenges to keep the nation active. There is talk about wrapping up the Premier League season behind closed doors using Wembley and St George’s Park to facilitate matches. The Hundred, the ECB’s new format could also take place without spectators though this idea hasn’t been well received by players and fans alike. The Masters has been pushed back seven months to a chilly November and The Open has been cancelled altogether.

Whatever happens I’m sure we’ll all appreciate live sport when it returns in the near future.

Take care.