The Covid-19 pandemic has not stopped with the past year. In 2021, the world of sport will have to continue to live with this threat. Six months before the Olympic Games, the first announcements of cancellations or postponements of competitions fall.
After a year 2020 complicated by cancellations and postponements in cascade, 2021 does not look much better for professional sport while the Covid-19 and its variants are still causing so much concern. From handball to F1 through football and cycling, an overview.
>> To read also, our retro 2020: “The highlights of a sporting year like no other”
• Handball: a world championship in the shadow of the pandemic
The 27e The handball world championship kicked off on Wednesday January 13 with host Egypt against Chile in the opening match. This world first of a major team sport since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic is under close scrutiny, while the Euro football and the Olympics are due to take place later this year.
The competition had its first turmoil with the withdrawal of the Czechs, who have at least a dozen positive cases, and their replacement at the last minute by North Macedonia. The United States, with 18 infected players, also had to throw in the towel and are replaced by Switzerland in the group of France.
Despite the risks of contamination and the enormous logistical difficulties linked to the health protocol, the Egyptian authorities, directly involved in the organization of the event, and the International Federation, chaired by an Egyptian, did everything to maintain this showcase.
Even if it means sacrificing the spectators at the last moment – a gauge of 30% then 20% was scheduled until Sunday before the matches switch to closed doors – while three of the four sports arenas were built for the occasion: the hall from the new capital (7,500 places) east of Cairo, that of the City of October 6 (5,200), another suburb located to the west of the gigantic megalopolis, and that of Alexandria (5,000).
For each of the sites, a very large hotel capable of accommodating eight teams, the organizers and the few accredited media has been transformed into a health bubble. But, according to AFP, the flaws in the protocol were visible, whether in the organization of PCR tests or the respect of barrier gestures.
• Football: the best off?
If behind closed doors is still the rule in stadiums, football is doing better for the moment than other disciplines. Despite the re-containment in England and Portugal, the local championships continue.
At European level, the resumption of the Champions League and the Europa League is scheduled for mid-February. Despite the rebound of the pandemic, UEFA has so far not mentioned any modification of the calendar of these competitions or of the Euro rescheduled from 11 June to 11 July which, in an unprecedented format, must be held simultaneously in many countries.
And, if the spectacle continues for the moment on the lawns, the world of football fears the economic fallout of the health crisis. Across the Channel, the prestigious Arsenal club had to contract a loan of 120 million pounds (132.5 million euros) from the British government in order to “manage the impact of loss of income linked to the pandemic”.
In France, it is also the imbroglio of TV rights and Mediapro that worries. The TV rights crisis and the closed door, synonymous with the lack of ticketing revenues, threaten the threat of record losses for professional football. These were evaluated at the end of December at 800 million euros by Jean-Marc Mickeler, the boss of the DNCG, the financial policeman of French football.
The solution could be a drop in player salaries. A first meeting between the UNFP, the players’ union, and a delegation of five leaders of L1 and L2 clubs was held on Tuesday afternoon at the League, to launch the debate, in a “constructive climate” according to several participants.
• Tennis: the Australian Open shifted
Tournament postponed for three weeks, special charters for players, mandatory “fortnight” in a hotel in Melbourne …. Unprecedented measures have been taken to maintain the Australian Open (February 8-21).
Conditions too draconian for some, like the American John Isner, who gave up the first Grand Slam tournament of the tennis season because he “did not want to be far from his family for so long”.
• Cycling: when will you resume?
After a shortened 2020 season marked by cascading cancellations, the new season does not look like a better one. The Down Under, the Australian Tour, usually kicks off the World Tour cycling season (highest level). While it was to be held from January 14 to 21, it was canceled. No Tour of San Juan in Argentina either (January 24 to 31), another destination of choice for professionals to start their season. The Tour of Colombia, that of Turkey as well as the Tropical Amissa Bongo, in Gabon, are also canceled.
So where could the big names of the peloton kick off their year? This could be on the side of Spain, with the Tour of the Valencian Community, scheduled for February 3-7. Last year, the future winner of the Tour de France Tadej Pogacar won there. The first race on the World Tour calendar is due to take place February 21-27 with the UAE Tour in the United Arab Emirates. Ironically, this race was the first to be disrupted by the pandemic in 2020.
• F1: the start (and the end) of the season already postponed
In Formula 1 too, the season traditionally resumes in Australia. However, the promoter of the world championship announced on Tuesday the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix scheduled for March 21 in Melbourne, due to travel restrictions imposed by the country. The Chinese Grand Prix (April 11) is also postponed.
The Formula 1 season will therefore not start in Australia on March 21, but in Bahrain a week later and will also end a week later than planned in Abu Dhabi on December 12 instead of 5.
No race has been canceled for the moment and the season still includes the record number of 23 Grands Prix, while 17 races (instead of 22) were held last year between July and December thanks to a health protocol. strict.
• Rugby: several competitions at a standstill
The European rugby cups have been suspended “at least until the beginning of February”, after the French government called on Top 14 clubs “to postpone their participation” in these competitions. Of particular concern is the expansion of the British variant of Covid-19.
>> To read also: “Rugby: the French Stadium Paris in the financial turmoil due to the Covid-19”
For this same reason, the Six Nations Tournament, which is due to start on February 6, is also in the balance, after a 2020 edition already very disturbed by the pandemic. The French Minister of Sports, Roxana Maracineanu, demanded, on Tuesday, more health guarantees for the trips of the Blues in Ireland and England as part of the tournament (February 6-March 20), while maintaining the first match against the ‘Italy.
The 2021 Six Nations Ladies Tournament and the Under-20 Tournament have been postponed due to the pandemic, the organizing committee announced on Wednesday.
• Skiing: cancellation of the queen stage in Wengen
The Wengen descent, one of the most famous of the ski season, which was scheduled for next weekend, had to be canceled due to the evolution of the epidemic in the Swiss resort. The race and a slalom are moved to another legendary World Cup hotspot, Kitzbühel, Austria.
Women’s competitions scheduled for Yanqing (China), on the site of the 2022 Winter Olympics, had already had to be canceled due to the pandemic and will finally take place in Italy in February.
• Threat to the Olympics?
The question of a new postponement or an outright cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics arises again, while a new poll shows that the Japanese are now resistant to the holding of the Olympiad this year. In the latest Kyodo news agency poll, 45% of those polled wanted the Games to be postponed a second time and 35% said they were in favor of outright cancellation. Figures that follow the resurgence of the epidemic in the country and the declaration of a state of emergency.
According to several Japanese media, the Japanese organizing committee was to meet with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in February to discuss the fate of the Olympics. Information denied by Toshiro Muto, the editor, who denounced “false information”.