Can 2021 handle the burden of all of this year's postponed sporting competitions?

The Grand Prix season had barely started and already the postponements and cancellations had started

  
Formula One F1 - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - December 1, 2019 Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel during the race.

Formula One F1 - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - December 1, 2019 Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel during the race.

REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

DUBAI: For many reasons, least important of them sporting ones, next year can’t come soon enough for most people. Still, when sports competitions eventually do return, 2021 looks like it might have an almost unbearable burden on it.

The spread of the coronavirus has brought with it a complete shutdown of all sports fixtures, some cancelled, others suspended indefinitely and many that have, optimistically, been moved to future dates.

With postponements and rearrangements announced almost daily, 2021 could be one of the most sports event-heavy years of all time.

Of most immediacy is perhaps annual competitions and leagues.

Will the 2020 Formula 1 season, for example, be completed this year? Scheduled to start in March, the season has been delayed until June with two races already cancelled and seven postponed.

We are fast approaching a time when questions will be asked whether all 2020 Grand Prix events will be suspended. Season 2021 might just have to be the 70th edition after all.

As things stand, many domestic football leagues, including some of Europe’s biggest, have tentatively set return dates in May or June. That is, it goes without saying, if the coronavirus crisis has by then eased significantly to not put players, staff and organizers under any threat.

Most likely, many matches will be played behind closed doors as taking unnecessary risks with huge congregations of fans is almost certainly out of the question in the next few months.

The big question remains, how long will the 2019-20 season be persevered with?

With just a handful of matches left in most domestic campaigns around the world, and with many teams within touching distance of glory - or failure - the debate has raged on whether to void ongoing campaigns or restart them once a semblance of normality returns.

For fans of the likes of PSG, Liverpool, Celtic and other clearly dominant teams, almost guaranteed success would be snatched. For rival fans, of course, a chance to gloat, never mind the human cost of the catastrophe that has brought about this dilemma.

What is no longer doubt is that whatever decisions will be taken, and even if competitive action does return in the coming months, it looks like the consequences will inevitably spill over into 2021,

The general consensus is that the current campaigns, most of which are almost 75 percent completed, will have to be concluded for many logistical, financial and broadcasting reasons, before the subsequent ones are started.

There has even been suggestions that the prospective 2020-21 season (scheduled for an August start) could be become played across the 2021 calendar, leading to a similar 2022 campaign ahead of the winter world Cup that year.

It would be an unprecedented disruption to a mostly global football calendar that has stood for decades. But then we are living in unprecedented times.

That’s before we even get to the number of international football events taking place this year and next.

The Africa Cup of Nations is scheduled to kick off in Cameroon on January 9, 2021, as things stand. As with all other competitions, the chances of that going ahead as planned decrease with every passing day that the coronavirus crisis continues to rage.

Euro 2020, second only in terms of importance to the World Cup, has already been tentatively moved forward a year, and then there is the matter of the UEFA Nations League which was meant to start its second edition in September. Its fate remains unknown.

The 2021 Women’s European Championships were set to kick off at Old Trafford on July 7, but with the intrusion of the postponed men’s events, now looks almost certain to be postponed until 2022, pending an official decision by UEFA.

There was genuine concerns that the potential rescheduling of the two men’s competitions will overlap with and inevitably detract from what was going to be hugely-anticipated tournament in England. A year’s delay means the women’s competition will now share a calendar year with the men’s World Cup, albeit not at the same time.

Rescheduling football tournaments is proving more than 2021 can seemingly handle.

“It is the biggest crisis that football faced in history,” UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said last month.

“We all know that this terrible virus that is all across Europe made football and all life in Europe quite impossible. We knew we have to stop the competitions."

And there’s more.

The 47th edition of Copa America, a completion that often seems to take every year, meanwhile, was set to run from June 12 to July 12 this year in Argentina and Colombia. Not surprisingly it has now been pushed back to June 2021.

Then there’s the big one; the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, initially scheduled for a July start. Having ignored reality and common sense for as long as was humanly possible, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) eventually succumbed to common sense, and pressure from competing nations and athletes, by delaying the games until next year.

In the Middle East, increasingly home to some of the most high-profile global sporting events, decisions will have to be taken on what will be postponed and what, inevitably, is cancelled.

The UAE’s Arabian Gulf League, Saudi Professional League and other regional football leagues, like almost all FIFA approved competitions, have been suspended and plans for resumption for now seem to be nothing more specific than playing it by ear.

Major stand-alone events demand more decisive action on the other hand.

The 25th Dubai World Cup, until recently the world’s richest horse race but now overtaken by the Saudi Cup, has already been postponed pushed back from March 28 until next year.

But some organizers of remain more optimistic. The inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International, the first female professional golf tournament to be played in Saudi Arabia, has been delayed until Oct. 8-11, 2020.

The new date for the $1 million event at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club was agreed by tournament promoters and owners, Golf Saudi, and the Ladies European Tour (LET), with some of the world’s finest golfing talent still expected to showcase their skills on Saudi shores during this landmark occasion.

“Postponing the inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International originally scheduled to take place in March, was a difficult decision,” Alexandra Armas, LET CEO, said.

“However, we have been extremely impressed by Golf Saudi’s commitment to working through the challenges and making this historic event happen. We would like to thank all stakeholders for their incredible support, and I am sure that this fantastic new tournament will be one of the major highlights of 2020.”

Logistically, the postponement looks feasible if the spread of the Covid-19 virus starts to show signs of abating during the summer.

But for now, many questions remain. Until the world regains some sort of appearance of normality – whatever that might be - spring events will just have to wait. At least until 2021.

Copyright: Arab News © 2020 All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).

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