The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on this year’s sporting calendar. All over the world, sporting events of every kind have been cancelled including football, rugby, cricket, motor racing, tennis, athletics and many more. Even the Olympic Games have been postponed until 2021.
Apart from the economic impact on sporting clubs of every kind, that have lost millions of pounds in terms of ticket sales for live events, fans are unhappy that they can no longer watch their favourite sporting stars in action.
Future of sports industry
With nobody knowing when our sporting calendar will get back to normal, many of this year’s events may not be completed at all. It was reported that a lot of England and Scotland’s lower league football clubs may face bankruptcy and closure if the pandemic continues indefinitely.
In an industry where only the top clubs have a financial cushion due to extra income from TV rights or millionaire owners, the lower league football clubs are feeling the pinch. Former Crystal Palace FC owner Simon Jordan told radio station Talk Sport that an estimated 70% of lower league clubs were facing financial disaster.
Formula 1 Grand Prix has also lost much of the season, but bosses have announced they finally hope to start the 2020 season with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on 19th July, if they’re able to do so in terms of how the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed.
The Tour de France cycling race may start on 29th August, while cricket is tentatively pencilled in to return in England and Wales on 15th July with The Hundred.
Tennis may be back on 24th September with the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris, while there is to be no golf until 25th September at the earliest, when the Ryder Cup may take place at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
It is hoped the first rugby league match will happen on 31st October, when England v Australia may be able to play the first Test at the University of Bolton Stadium. However, all events are subject to change and it’s not guaranteed that any of them will be able to go ahead at all in 2020.
Virtual sports boom
While no-one can estimate the outcome of the pandemic and how soon live sports can return, people are increasingly turning to virtual sports to fill the void in their lives.
Various sports bosses have launched virtual events, with the latest technology enabling stars to play from their computer or console in their own home. The events are broadcast on live television and people all over the world can then watch their favourite sporting stars in action – albeit in a digital alternative.
While virtual sports may seem like a new innovation, they were first played way back in 1961, when programmer John Burgeson, an IBM engineer, developed an early form of fantasy baseball, which was played on the IBM 1620 computer.
The program itself was only 20kb long, which is minute in today’s terms. It used random number generation to determine the outcome of the play – a process that is the key to many modern virtual sports games.
Unlike today’s games, Burgeson’s baseball game could be played by one player only, as there was no online play in those days. You could choose your digital player from a line-up of 50 stars of the day, who would complete the simulation game based on the statistical probabilities for each pitcher and batsman.
Virtual sports have come a long way since the 1960s and the e-sports market was massive, even before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Thanks to the internet and modern tech innovations, players using a console or computer can play almost any sport online, pitting their skills in real-time against fellow players from all over the world.
In the current climate, virtual sports are offering easy accessibility for frustrated fans who are sitting at home. The live virtual sports events have been broadcast free on television for everyone. This mass audience accessibility has enabled people to watch football, cycling, F1, basketball and other major e-sports.
As well as keeping fans’ interest going at a time when there are no live sports, it’s also good for the betting industry, as bookmakers are taking bets on the virtual events – even donating the proceeds to health charities in some cases.
Real-life motor racing drivers and other sports stars and celebrities have been taking part in a virtual F1 Grand Prix, which looks incredibly realistic. The drivers taking part have included Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc and Nico Hulkenberg.
Retired driver turned TV pundit Johnny Herbert has also taken part, as have England cricket hero Ben Stokes and AC Milan’s football captain, Alessio Romagnoli. Fans tuning in could be forgiven for thinking F1 was back, thanks to the amazingly realistic graphics.
Meanwhile, Premier League footballers have been battling it out on Sky Sports in virtual matches, giving fans the chance to see their heroes in action, albeit playing from their living room. Players from all 20 Premier League clubs have been participating.
One of the recent matches saw Manchester City striker Raheem Sterling face Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace in the virtual EPL Invitational 2020. The added attraction is that as well as the football action, fans can see the stars’ reactions as they play and hear their banter.
Cricket stars have also joined the virtual sports revolution by taking part in the Virtual County Championship Fantasy Cricket, organised by Cricket World and Dice Cricket. In the latest match, Durham and Middlesex have been playing.
If the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it seems only a matter of time before more sports join the virtual trend. With e-sports championships already attracting millions of attendees, both online and in-person, the current live sports crisis has boosted an already popular video game market.
In some cases, virtual reality has crossed over into real life. In football in particular, modern training camps often see players wearing VR headsets as they learn new skills away from the pitch.
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