On 26 March, the Football Association (FA) announced that all men’s football below the levels of National League, National League North and National League South, as well as women’s fixtures below Women’s Super League and Championship level, would end immediately in a bid to tackle the spread of coronavirus – with all results expunged and no promotion or relegation taking place.
The decision to call full-time on lower league football brings an abrupt end to the grassroots season and countless pub sides’ campaigns – to which the on-trade is said to collectively contribute £40m per annum.
Euro 2020 postponed, extra time for Premier League and Champions League?
However, when it comes to the professional game, the conclusion of the 2019-20 season remains far from clear cut.
According to the BBC, the FA is determined to complete the Women’s Super League season and is pushing to wrap a completed 2019-20 campaign by early August – though, at the time of writing, there had been no indication of when fixtures may resume.
Additionally, the Premier League and Football League have been suspended until 30 April at the earliest, with the end of the 2019-20 season extended indefinitely – again with no restart date yet in sight but plans reportedly in discussion to resume fixtures in a condensed, behind closed doors, schedule.
The ongoing limbo has led England captain Harry Kane to throw his weight behind calling off the current season if things do not get back under way by the end of June – echoing UEFA chief Aleksandr Ceferin’s fears that it will be a struggle to conclude top-flight seasons across Europe due to a back-log of fixtures, with cancellation on the cards should players not be able to kick-off in early summer.
Additionally, while European football’s governing body has postponed both the Champions League and Europa League finals – initially penned for 30 May and 27 May respectively – as well as the Women’s Champions League final due to take place on 24 May, there is – as of yet – no confirmation of when they will take place.
Further afield, it’s been confirmed that Euro 2020 has been postponed until 2021 – a decision that could herald an unlikely boost for the Three Lions’ Championship hopes with Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford struggling for fitness in time for a summer 2020 tournament, though it means fellow qualifiers Wales will have to wait an extra 12 months for a chance to repeat their 2016 heroics.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics postponed
With an estimated 10,000 athletes originally due to descend on Tokyo for its 24 July opening ceremony, and with more than half a million overseas visitors expected, the International Olympic Committee took the decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo games until 2021 – when they’re now scheduled to run from 23 July until 8 August.
Since the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896, just three have been cancelled, on each occasion due to the outbreak of war. In 1916, the German Empire’s Berlin games were cancelled due to World War I, while Japan’s 1940 games and London’s 1944 Summer Olympics were both scrapped during World War II.
Potential scrum of Autumn fixtures
It’s been a month since the full-time whistle blew at BT Murrayfield on 8 March to call a halt to Scotland’s 28-17 win over France, and unbeknown to those watching, this year’s Six Nations Championship.
The first Six Nations of the new decade was one of the first sporting events to succumb to coronavirus – with four fixtures from the spring sporting staple still to be played.
According to reports in The Guardian, this could lead to a congested Autumn schedule for Eddie Jones’s England and the rest of the Home Nations, with Jones’s side potentially lined up for five Tests in consecutive weeks as Six Nations organisers consider rescheduling scrapped fixtures for late October.
The Guardian understands that the weekend before the November Autumn internationals has been discussed as a possible new date for postponed matches.
In terms of domestic and European rugby, both Champions Cup and Challenge Cup semi-finals and finals – due to take place in Marseille on weekend of 22-23 May – have been postponed while the Rugby Football Union has called time on the 2019-20 season for all levels below the Gallagher Premiership.
According to former England international Brian Moore, Gallagher Premiership bosses hope to resume the current season during the summer. Writing in The Telegraph, Moore stated “Reset; that is the word on the lips of everyone involved in rugby.”
Esports is the pony to bet on
While all racing in Great Britain – including this year’s Grand National – has been suspended until the end of April, ITV has hedged its bets on broadcasting a virtual race on 4 April to fill the void.
The virtual Grand National will feature the 40 runners most likely to have graced Aintree’s start line using CGI technology and special algorithms.
It is yet to be confirmed whether bookmakers will be permitted to take bets on the race.
Boxing’s time out
The creators of the World Boxing Super Series tournaments have also plumped for an Esports solution to the current sporting dirth, using PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 title Fight Night Champion to offer fight fans virtual action via Facebook Live.
While Mike Tyson outpointed Muhammad Ali in an all-American final of the heavyweight competition – the real-life fight game is still on hold, with all eyes locked on a Brit-dominated heavyweight division.
On 30 March, the British Boxing Board of Control announced that its suspension of all events would be extended until the end of May – meaning that British heavyweight contenders Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora’s next outings – against Alexander Povetkin and Oleksandr Usyk respectively – have been postponed.
Anthony Joshua is currently scheduled to defend his world titles against Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev – who dropped out of a scheduled bout with the Brit in October 2017 due to injury – at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 20 June. However, Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn has since confessed that the bout could be delayed until July due to the Premier League season potentially going past its traditional May finish.
What’s more, while deposed heavyweight king Deontay Wilder triggered a rematch clause against Tyson Fury after the gipsy king stopped the previously unbeaten American knockout artist in the seventh round of their 22 February meeting, the date originally penned to conclude their fight trilogy, 18 July, has been thrown out by Fury’s promoter Frank Warren.
“The 18th will not happen,” Warren told the BBC. “The commission in Nevada has said ‘no boxing’ for the foreseeable future and Las Vegas has closed down all the casinos – it’s like a ghost town there.
“No one knows what’s happening day to day, all we can do is hope for the best and push it back as far as possible so October looks like the date for the fight.”
Rain check on grand slam tennis?
According to a statement from the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), the body behind the world’s foremost tennis tournament confirmed that it is conducting a “detailed evaluation of all scenarios”, including the postponement or cancellation of Wimbledon 2020, which was originally due to get under way on 29 June.
“The AELTC has been contingency-planning since January, working closely with the UK Government and public health authorities to follow their advice and understand the likely impact of Covid-19,” a statement read.
However, according to reports in The Guardian, the tournament’s organisers are expected to announce the first grand slam cancellation since 1945 on Wednesday after the sport’s bodies took a rain check on all professional tennis events until at least 7 June.
“It is completely unrealistic to imagine that with the travel restrictions we currently have, an international tennis tournament where hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world would travel. That is unthinkable,” German Tennis Federation vice-president, Dirk Hordorff, told The Guardian.
The news comes after French Open organisers postponed the clay court grand slam at Roland Garros from May until late September.
Formula One season stalls
At the time of writing, seven Grands Prix – traditional curtain-raiser Australia, Bahrain, China, Spain and Azerbaijan as well as new races in Vietnam and the Netherlands – had been postponed due to coronavirus while the showpiece Monaco race had been removed from the F1 calendar for the first time since 1954.
However, despite postponements and cancellations causing the start of the latest F1 season to stall, the sport’s big wigs are holding out hope that they may be able to kick start a reduced season in the summer – with a campaign needing a minimum of just eight races to go ahead.
While the annual curtain call at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi was originally lined up for the end of November, a January finish has been mooted.
Cricketing world respects boundaries
The spread of coronavirus has already hit the cricketing season for six with the cancellation of England’s two-Test tour of Sri Lanka initially penned to begin in Galle on 19 March – a decision described as a “relief” by captain Joe Root – and the England and Wales Cricket Board stating that the county cricket season would not get under way until at least 28 May.
Additionally, doubts remain over England’s Test series against the West Indies – originally due to start on 4 June at the Oval – as well as a three-Test series against Pakistan scheduled to begin at Lord’s on July 30.
While there hasn’t been official confirmation of postponement or cancellation, with Cricket West Indies chief Johnny Grave’s admission to the BBC that switching this summer’s series from England to the Caribbean is “an unrealistic option”, chances of any summer cricket going ahead look remote.
However, organisers of the men’s T20 World Cup in Australia are still hopeful that the tournament will take place as planned in October despite the ongoing pandemic.