$65 billion loss, empty stadiums haunt world sports

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No one knows when will Cricket stadiums be packed with spectators. (Representative image)
No one knows when will Cricket stadiums be packed with spectators. (Representative image)

The sporting world could end up losing a little over $65 billion because of the deadly Coronavirus scare which has stopped all big buck events across the world. Let’s start with India.

Cricket

In cricket-crazy India, the crisis over missing out on the world’s most expensive Indian Premier League (IPL) this year is not the only issue bothering the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). There are other pressure points, among them the future of hosting tests, ODIs and T20 series and domestic matches. More importantly, the huge maintenance costs to run gigantic cricket stadiums which were once symbols of huge cricketing cash but now conjure up an image of despair.

BCCI president and former Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly has made it clear that he sees no hope for cricket. Cricketing bodies in England, Australia and South Africa are not speaking. 

So it will be safe to conclude that cricket is in serious trouble in India, a billion plus nation which regularly guarantees the required cash to push the willow game to greater heights. 

This is just one side of the coin, revolving around cricket and cricketers. 

The other side has larger problems. First, will the crowds be allowed to come in? No one has an answer. Will sponsorships return? No one has an answer. Will television channels pay big cash for rights? No one has an answer. Will cricketers field from close? No one has an answer. Can bowlers use saliva to shine the ball? No one has an answer. Sussex head coach Jason Gillespie feels shining the ball with saliva and sweat needs to be scrapped for the time being. But how would you play a test if you cannot shine the red ball? Or will ICC shift to the white ball?

The bottomline is clear: If India, where all the cricketing cash is stored, is having serious problems, then even the Gods cannot help world cricket.

Hockey

The national games, hockey, is also in the dumps. After suspension of its Europe leg matches of the Pro League, the Indian men’s hockey team’s home games against New Zealand have also been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Zealand men were scheduled to play back-to-back games on May 23 and 24 in Bhubaneswar. But now, the team will not be travelling to India.

Top Hockey India officials accept the situation is not conducive. 

“It is disappointing that the matches need to be cancelled but these are unavoidable circumstances. We hope to host them again soon, once the situation improves,” Hockey India (HI) CEO Elena Norman said, adding that tickets already bought for the same would be refunded.

Badminton

The shuttlers are in a similar crisis. Courts are out of bound due to the lockdown, India’s chief coach Pullela Gopichand is handing out tips through videos to the country’s top shuttlers. Gopichand has started putting in place a program for the shuttlers through WhatsApp. “We can only do fitness (training) because nobody has access to courts,” Gopichand told a news agency.

Apart from Gopichand, Jamshedpur-born trainer Dinaz Vervatwala, who has worked with London Olympics bronze-medallist Saina Nehwal, is taking fitness classes on Zoom app, a platform for video communication. The men’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, who were assured of a place in the Olympics, is also part of the same group.

But there is one problem. Sports cognoscenti say online sessions might keep the shuttlers fit but getting back to being match ready will be a huge challenge once the Badminton World Federation restarts the international calendar.

So what are Indians doing?

Rise in Online Gambling

With all of India in lockdown, online gambling has become a favourite pastime. The new industry is now worth $150 million and growing fast, especially poker and rummy and a host of other gambling avenues. Teen Patti, a popular Diwali game, is now among top 10 ranks in the global virtual world. Worse, many Indian bookies are betting on these sites on behalf of thousands of benami clients and making huge profits. 

And there are other tensions as well. 

Tokyo Olympics

The chief executive of the Tokyo Games has already declared that he cannot guarantee the postponed Olympics will be staged next year — even with a 16-month delay. “I don’t think anyone would be able to say if it is going to be possible to get it under control by next July or not,” Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto told reporters. The Olympics were postponed last month with a new opening set for July 23, 2021, followed by the Paralympics on August 24. “We have made the decision to postpone the games by one year,” Muto said amidst reports that organisers of Paralympic games were faced with a severe cash flow crisis. The cost of postponing has been estimated by Japanese media at between $2 billion-$6 billion.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was contemplating taking the Olympic flame on a world tour to use it as a symbol of battle against the virus but the tour has been cancelled because of severe travel restrictions across the world.

Football

Soccer, another cash-spinner, is in a deeper crisis. 

Premier league clubs are looking at making as many as five substitutes when the season is resumed. There are high chances of player burn out and injuries with remaining games crammed into a matter of five weeks or less. Soccer’s controlling body, FIFA, has huge concerns at the repercussions for players of the expected tight timetable when matches are given the green light to resume. 

Soccer, the world’s most popular game, is at the mercy of deadly Coronavirus. (Representative image)

But then, no one knows when the matches will start. And even if it starts, whether or not the crowds will be allowed inside the stadiums.

European nations are taking steps to ease lockdown measures imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UEFA is trying hard to meet up with the continent’s football clubs and associations to find a way to resume the season. European soccer’s governing body hopes there will be a consensus among its 55 members, UEFA wants to finish the season.

Empty Stadiums?

Everything is on paper, no one has signed on the dotted lines. Consider the case of Germany which wants to restart Bundesliga matches behind closed doors next month. That means the stadiums will be empty and everyone will have to watch the game on television sets at home, not even on open air giant screens or pubs. England, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Scotland have not disclosed their plans, they are awaiting a green light from UEFA. Forget UEFA, no one is ready to take a call on how to end their seasons, ostensibly because the virus has claimed over 165,000 lives globally, nearly two-thirds of them in Europe. 

So there will be a series of meetings — keeping in mind the issues of social distancing — between UEFA, European Club Association (ECA) and the European Leagues. There are hopes that the meeting could trigger some key announcements. But that’s only hope. Honestly, it is clear that nothing will be decided because it is still impossible given all the uncertainty surrounding the easing of the lockdowns. When football stadiums were locked out in mid-March, planners pushed the end of June as the target date for finishing the season. UEFA says it could even extend the season to July, even August, if required.

What is of utmost importance is the matches must resume without spectators. The organisers and club owners are unanimous that it is better to play behind closed doors than not at all. Worse, if the season remains incomplete, the impact would be terrible for clubs and leagues. Soccer world is in a mess. UEFA has postponed Euro 2020 by a year, the Champions League and Europa League — now in the last 16 stage — are on hold until further notice.

The world’s most popular game is at the mercy of a deadly virus.

There are lockdowns in the UK, France, Spain and Italy that will continue into May. Germany and other parts of Europe are trying hard to ease measures. German clubs desperately want the season to be finished by June 30 to secure an instalment of television money, reportedly worth $326 million. The case of the missing cash because of no games is also a central concern for Europe’s other leading leagues, Soctland and Belgium have anyway declared their leagues as over. 

Have a look at how the soccer calendar across the world has been messed up.

Here is a list of cancellations

# Euro 2020 was postponed. Europe’s flagship tournament will now be staged from June 11 to July 11, 2021. 

# This year’s Copa America, originally scheduled for June-July in Colombia and Argentina, was postponed to June 11–July 11, 2021.

# FIFA has agreed to delay the first edition of its revamped Club World Cup due to be held in 2021. 

# UEFA put all club and national team competitions for men and women on hold until further notice. The men’s and women’s Champions League finals and Europa League final originally scheduled for May have been formally postponed. UEFA postponed all Champions League and Europa League matches due to take place between March 17-19. 

# All elite games in England, including the Premier League, Football League and Women’s Super League, were suspended until April 30 but the current season can be extended indefinitely. 

# Germany’s Bundesliga and second division will pause till further notice. 

# South America’s two biggest club competitions, the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, were suspended until at least May 5.  

# The CAF postponed two rounds of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers (March 25-31). 

# CONCACAF suspended all competitions, including the Champions League and men’s Olympic qualifiers. 

# The top two tiers of French football — Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 — were suspended. 

# All matches in Spain’s top two divisions were postponed for two weeks. Spain’s Copa del Rey final between Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad (April 18) was postponed. 

# U.S. Major League Soccer suspended its season. 

# All soccer in the Netherlands was suspended until the end of March. 

# FIFA and AFC agreed to postpone Asian World Cup qualifying matches in March and June. FIFA postponed South American qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup between March 23-31.

# New seasons in the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean leagues were postponed. 

# A four-team event in Doha featuring Croatia, Portugal, Belgium and Switzerland (March 26-30) was canceled. 

# Asian Champions League: Matches involving Chinese clubs Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai Shenhua and Shanghai SIPG were postponed. The start of the knockout rounds was moved back to September. 

# The Asian Football Confederation postponed all AFC Cup 2020 matches scheduled for March and April. 

# The Brazilian football Confederation suspended all national competitions until further notice. 

# All events organized by the Russian Football Union, including Russian Premier League fixtures, between March 17-April 10 were cancelled. 

Way Ahead?

So the billion dollar question is: When will sport as we know it – in front of packed crowds – return? Sports organisers and administrators are looking at huge losses, they are convinced there are no silver bullets to kill the werewolves. It could be months and months, perhaps even next year and beyond before the crowds return to the stadium.

Even if cricket, hockey or football return behind closed doors – the best‑case scenario – there will be serious issues. If a single player tests positive for the virus then their whole squad will have to self-isolate for a fortnight, elongating the tournament (read season) further. And if this is analysed in terms of cash and economy, there are high chances that people across the world may not be able to afford to go to see cricket or football matches.

And then there is rugby, boxing, cycling, golf, snooker, tennis, and winter sports, all impacted severely because of Covid-19. The future looks totally uncertain, ostensibly because there could be a second or third wave of the virus. Actually, it could mutate into something worse. On the table there will be no deals, no dollars. 

Sports across the world, like everything else, will take it’s biggest hit and – in the process – transform the way some of the big buck shows are held. 

Can you get charged playing before an empty stadium?

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