Winners and losers in sport’s 2020 test of endurance

The Olympic Rings monument in Tokyo, with corornvirus masks.

The Olympic Rings monument in Tokyo, with corornvirus masks. Photo: EPA

If 2020 was a sporting contest, many fans would be thinking of a three-legged marathon race with the 42.195-kilometre course strewn with sharp-edged obstacles and used coronavirus masks.

The hurdles that sport surmounted in this year of living dangerously started in Melbourne with the collapse in March of the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park and rolled into worldwide competition shutdowns costing the industry billions of dollars.

But like any great contest, the comeback against the odds was what thrilled and delighted audiences, as sports administrators found a way to keep playing and the lucrative TV revenue flowing.

While 2020 will always be the year where we watched more of our favourite games from the couch, its mere presence – like these examples – lifted the gloom as the stories of triumph over adversity provided the uplift that the world needed

Australia’s women cricketers make it 2020, not out!

When Australia’s women won the ICC T20 World Cup in front of a massive MCG crowd of 86,174, little did we know that it would be the last hurrah for big crowds in 2020.

Alyssa Healy (75), Beth Mooney (78*) and Megan Schutt (4-18) were the destroyers as Australia cruised to an 85-run win against India.

A new opportunity beckons for Australia's women's team.

Australia’s T20 World Cup winners. Photo: Getty

The milestone match for women’s sport saw the Australians collect The Don Award for the year’s most inspirational performance, but also served to highlight what we had lost as the year progressed.

Racing against the virus – F1’s stuttering start

With AFL and NRL gearing up to hold their seasons as normal in March, it fell to the opening formula one race of the season in Melbourne to provide a reality check about the implications of the coronavirus.

When a McLaren team member was found to be COVID positive, it threw the race plans into chaos – and eventual abandonment.

With competition shut down for months afterwards, Daniel Ricciardo would retreat to his farm in Western Australia from where he told The New Daily he’d spent his days training with home furniture parkour and watching Ozark.

When the racing resumed in Austria in July, the season took off as it had ended, with Louis Hamilton dominant and Ricciardo making slow but steady improvement in his Renault – which he would ultimately decide to swap for a McLaren in 2021.

The Australian ended the year with two third-place podiums and the knowledge that he’ll now be competing against a team he has just spent two years making a whole lot better.

Ultimately though, the survival of Romain Grosjean was the defining story of F1 in 2020, emerging relatively unscathed after half-a-minute of near tragedy in the fiery wreck of his Haas in Bahrain – becoming the subject of numerous fun memes celebrating the miracle, including this one overlaying the moment on an English goal in the World Cup.

AFL and NRL … the glories of hub life

It took some time for the AFL and NRL to accept that the shutting down of their seasons was inevitable, with the AFL only managing one round in empty stadiums before bowing to the inevitable.

With some clubs already in a cash crisis, the NRL was particularly exposed and Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys used every influential contact he had to push for a restart as soon as possible.

When the competitions restarted – with TV contracts renegotiated and utilising canned crowd noises to hide the lack of atmosphere – the  player hub system worked well and officials of both competitions were vindicated as the seasons progressed safely and successfully.

Ecstatic Tigers players fall into each other’s arms after their victory over Geelong. Photo: AAP

Queensland’s support of AFL was rewarded with a thrilling Gabba grand final and another Richmond premiership, while in Sydney Melbourne Storm made good for locked-down Victorian fans with another title, this time over Penrith.

The A-League stumbled on through the pandemic with perhaps the most disrupted season of all – Sydney FC besting a brave Melbourne City.

Sting in the tale as Olympians bide their time

The year’s biggest sporting casualty was the Tokyo Olympics, with the world’s biggest event called off and rescheduled for 2021.

At home that meant disruption and angst for Aussie Stingers skipper Rowie Webster, who was just one Victorian athlete facing a mid-year letdown and the reality of training alone.

Before competition stopped: Australia’s Rowie Webster at 2019’s Inter-Continental Cup between Australia and Kazakhstan. Photo: AAP

The Stingers were one of Australia’s top medal prospects in Tokyo and Webster told The New Daily that online connections had been vital in keeping up spirits during a tough winter.

“Athletes are good at being resilient. We know that when you get knocked down … you just need to get back up again,’’ Webster said.

If we needed any reminder about the uplifting power of the Olympics, the 20th anniversary of Cathy Freeman’s gold medal in Sydney gave us all a chance to reflect and look towards better days.

Golf’s smart game undermined by hackers

One sport that lost some ground during the pandemic was golf, but not through any failing of officials, who diligently supported the early call to stop playing.

Golf’s peak body played a smart and sensible game, while others like former AFL footballer Sam Newman turned petulant, reinforcing some negative stereotypes about those who play the game.

While people struggled through lockdown and financial strife, Newman and his ilk raged about their inability to play golf – despite clubs being in no position to reopen and make money doing so.

Golfers keep their distance at a Melbourne course in March before lockdown. Photo: AAP

The bleating from the minority was in stark contrast to community sport around the nation which saw concerted attempts by local clubs to reinforce COVID-safe messaging and support people who may be doing it tough.

The backlash for golf may yet have some way to play out, with at least one local course in Melbourne being opened up to the public for mixed use and now seeing a push to keep it that way.

Another sport that suffered a backlash was tennis, with Novak Djokovic’s decision to push on with a charity event at the height of the pandemic proving to be a PR disaster.

At least Australians Ash Barty and Nick Kyrgios showed some leadership, with their decision to not participate at the US Open, held in the then COVID hotspot of New York.

Ash Barty, in Cairns in August, retained her world No.1 ranking despite not flying to New York for the US Open, held at the height of the pandemic in that city. Photo: Tennis Australia

Farewell to 2020 … and a legend

November brought a brighter feel to 2020 as the weather got warmer and the pandemic loosened its grip.

But 2020 had one last sting in the tail, with the death of one of football’s all-time greats – Argentine Diego Maradona.

His death was marked by an outpouring of grief in his home country and the retelling of many colourful stories about his triumphs and failures. 

While Maradona’s on-field deeds at the 1986 World Cup were legendary, the weeks after his death saw funeral home workers taking selfies with his body and a court ruling that his interred remains not be cremated as ongoing paternity suits are filed.

The memories and madness around Maradona was perhaps the best way to sum up 2020 – a crazy year that will never be forgotten, but one that reminds us to suck the marrow out of life.

Diego Maradona with the 1986 World Cup. Photo: AP

Topics: 2020, Sport
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