10 things we learned from sport in 2020

2020 was a sporting year like no other with events cancelled and empty stadiums being the new normal.

Here, the PA news agency looks at 10 things we have learned about sport during an unprecedented 12 months.

Taking a stand against racism counts

Manchester United v Southampton – Premier League – Old Trafford
Footballers took a knee in 2020 to make a powerful anti-racism message (Clive Brunskill/NMC Pool)

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May sparked anti-racism protests across the world. No sport was untouched as athletes showed solidarity by taking a knee before events. This followed the example set by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took the knee in 2016 to protest against racism and police brutality across the United States.

Big events are missed

Events fell like dominoes in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic took a heavy toll on the sporting calendar around the globe. Tennis fans missed out on Wimbledon and golf’s Open Championship was also cancelled as sport-lovers looked on with regret. Others events such as football’s European Championship and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were delayed for 12 months in the hope that they would eventually go ahead in 2021.

Sport is nothing without fans

Manchester City v Arsenal – Premier League – Etihad Stadium
Manchester City and Arsenal play in front of empty stands at the Etihad Stadium (Alex Livesey/PA)

TV companies did their best to make up for the lack of atmosphere in empty stadiums and arenas by piping in crowd noise for the viewer. Manchester City also had a bank of screens behind one of the goals showing live fan reaction. But in a year when face coverings were prevalent, the gimmicks could not mask the cold truth that sport is a soulless affair without fans.

Thinking outside the box works

Covid-19 created huge problems over venues, but organisers stepped up to protect broadcasting rights and provide fans with entertainment. Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn staged fight camps throughout August and bio-secure bubbles became one of the buzz phrases of 2020. Sports teams were housed on site and the England cricket team spent their summer at Old Trafford and Southampton’s Ageas Bowl, two venues able to accommodate players and staff in every sense of the word.

Hamilton influence knows no bounds

Lewis Hamilton remained the king of the Formula One grid with his seventh world title equalling Michael Schumacher’s all-time title haul. Hamilton also set a new record of 95 career wins and generated as many headlines off the track. Hamilton was at the forefront of the fight against racism by taking the knee on the grid and was praised for urging F1 bosses to act on those countries hosting races with poor human rights records.

Klopp’s the undisputed king of the Kop

Liverpool v Chelsea – Premier League – Anfield
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates the club’s first Premier League title at Anfield in July (Laurence Griffiths/PA)

Liverpool had waited 30 years to be crowned champions of England and move within one of Manchester United’s record 20 domestic titles. So it was a cruel irony that the Covid-19 pandemic prevented their supporters from attending Anfield’s title party. But Jurgen Klopp’s hero status on the red half of Merseyside was safe, with Premier League glory added to the Champions League title won in 2019.

Golf’s growing power game

The Open Championship 2019 – Day One – Royal Portrush Golf Club
Bryson DeChambeau provoked a distance debate in golf with his prodigious driving off the tee (Richard Sellers/PA)

Bryson DeChambeau piled on the pounds and driving yardage to become the biggest talking point in golf. DeChambeau hit the ball so far off the tee that some courses were at risk of being reduced to pitch and putt venues. The American made light of tight fairways and thick rough to win September’s US Open by six shots and trigger a debate over where the game was headed and what could be done to curb the power merchants.

Rugby union left reeling

Rugby Union – RBS 6 Nations Championship 2005 – Ireland v England – Lansdowne Road
England’s World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson was among a group of former internationals to plan legal action against rugby union’s authorities (Haydn West/PA)

Rugby’s ticking timebomb exploded in December when England’s World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson and other former internationals announced planned legal action over negligence. The group claimed the rugby authorities failed to protect them from the risks caused by concussion and left them living with the consequences of brain injuries. With more players expected to come forward and highlight their own personal issues, rugby union faces the prospect of costly and damaging lawsuits in 2021.

Joshua v Fury must happen

'Let's hope this fight happens…I've been willing to take the fight for the last 5 years.'@Tyson_Fury tells @piersmorgan and @susannareid100 about why he decided to challenge @anthonyfjoshua in the ring.

He also has a message for the two-time unified heavyweight champion. pic.twitter.com/kAEx0ePPpo

— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) December 14, 2020

Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury both posted impressive wins in 2020 as a potentially explosive Battle of Britain inched closer. In February, Fury knocked out Deontay Wilder in the seventh round in Las Vegas to win the WBC heavyweight title. Joshua finished the year by successfully defending his WBA, WBO and IBF belts with a ninth-round knockout victory over Kubrat Pulev in London. 2021 will hopefully be the year when the talk of a mega-fight stops and Joshua and Fury meet in the ring.

Scotland can join the party

Serbia v Scotland – UEFA Euro 2020 – Play-offs – Final – Rajko Mitic Stadium
Scotland celebrate reaching Euro 2020 after beating Serbia in a penalty shoot-out (Novak Djurovic/PA)

Fatboy Slim was at number one and Tony Blair was British Prime Minister the last time Scotland graced a major tournament at the 1998 World Cup in France. But 22 years of hurt were wiped away in October when David Marshall saved Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty for a 5-4 sudden death win over Serbia and a place at next summer’s delayed Euro 2020 finals. Better still, Scotland will be guests at their own party with two group games at Hampden Park, as well as a Wembley trip to play England.

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