With the world of sport already well under way in 2020, this first issue of the new decade seems like the perfect opportunity to briefly reminisce about the events of 2019 before looking ahead to what this year has to offer. As seems to be becoming the norm across almost every sport recently, the main talking points, whether good or bad, are not directly related to the way any game is actually played.
While there were certainly some negatives for sport in 2019, we should not focus solely on them. Perhaps the biggest positive last year was the significant attention given to women in sport, as society tries to create a more level playing field. The focal point of this was the highly successful Women’s World Cup, primarily broadcast on the BBC and generally led by female pundits including former American goalkeeper Hope Solo and the popular Alex Scott, who was making regular appearances on Sky Sports up until very recently when she took up other commitments. BT sport have already broadcast much of the Women’s Super League 2019/20 season and broadcasters such as Faye Carruthers now have their own slots on Talk Sport dedicated to the women’s game.
One story in particular that everybody seemed to enjoy was that of 15-year-old Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff, who unexpectedly reached the fourth round of Wimbledon, knocking out seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams in the process. Gauff eventually fell to the winner of the competition, Simona Halep, who picked up one of the four grand slams on offer for a consecutive year. Gauff’s Australian Open was recently cut short by her compatriot Sofia Kenin, although the youngster had already caused an upset by sending the 2019 winner, Naomi Osaka, out of the competition. Osaka is another who will look to pick up her form, after struggling through the clay and grass court season following consecutive Grand Slam wins only a few months before.
Moving onto 2020 though, there are multiple questions on the horizon over who the winners and losers will be this year. Will Rory McIlroy finally end his six-year major drought? Will Dina-Asher Smith, on the back of an incredible 2019 which seen her finish third in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, deliver for Britain at Tokyo 2020? Will the England football team finally live up to the hype and convince everyone that they are perhaps better than many give them credit for?
Beginning with football, 2020 marks a huge year for the world’s most popular sport. Whilst 2019, as mentioned, was really positive due to the promotion of the women’s game, the sport continues to be marred, not only by endless debates on the implications of VAR, but on the far more severe issue of racism. At both club and international level, incidents of racism were frequent throughout last year. The debates are endless on how to put a stop to these moments of horrific abuse, with Gary Neville in particular speaking passionately on Sky Sports recently.
On top of this, 2020 sees the return of a major international tournament, meaning the current never-ending stream of football will carry on right through the summer. Despite seeming wholly unpractical, the tournament is set to take place across all of Europe as opposed to one or two host countries which, up until now, was understandably the accepted norm. The idea of a collective host now seems nothing short of ironic following some of the incidents in the qualifiers. Whilst the tournament is clearly seeking to promote a sense of unity through an international football community, many people’s minds, including the player’s themselves, will remember how close many of England’s players were to walking off the field after experiencing racist chanting away to Bulgaria. Left-back Danny Rose even said he couldn’t wait for his career to end just to escape the abuse.
Of course, this is not to say racism is not a problem in our own country with Chelsea centre-back Antonio Rudiger and Manchester United midfielder Fred serving as recent examples of the long list of footballers to be targeted. It was the former’s incident that led to Neville’s passionate speech live on Sky Sports.
Moreover, as the Premier League begins to draw to a somewhat inevitable conclusion, with Jurgen Klopp’s record-breaking Liverpool side almost certain to end the club’s thirty-year wait for a league title, attention will likely turn to what looks set to be an incredibly open Champions League as the majority of top clubs made their way into the last sixteen. In spite of the entertainment this will no doubt provide, I cannot help but think we are gradually getting closer to the introduction of a European super-league, of which the Champions League is somewhat becoming a form of, that will see the top clubs (i.e. the richest and most powerful) compete in the same league. Those who believe that football is merely a game should take a look at the financial gap between those at the top of the pyramid and those at the bottom as the rich continue to get richer and the poorer clubs continue to suffer. Whilst the European super-clubs continue to garner world-wide support as they enter new markets across the globe, local, more community-based clubs such as Bolton continue to struggle whilst the Premier League towers far above it. Last year seen the sad departure of Bury from the football league and, unless far better checks are put in place by the EFL to ensure the financial stability of these clubs, the fate of some clubs cannot be far behind Bury.
In spite of all this though, we should not take away from the quality of football we are all hoping to see across both the men’s and women’s games. It’s times like these where everybody must go to the football, or any sport for that matter, and remember what they are ultimately there for – to watch professional athletes compete at the highest level. Unfortunately, this does occasionally mean we are willing to bury our heads in the sand about what’s wrong with much of it.
Perhaps the most open sport in the world, in terms of the guessing games surrounding who’s going to win, is golf. Since 2016, only Brooks Koepka has one two majors in the space of a calendar year. Whilst America continues to generally dominate the sport (there have only been five European winners of the past sixteen major tournaments in the men’s game), many British golfers will be hoping to stop that run. In particular, Rory McIlroy, whilst his ability is rarely doubted, particularly after his performance at the World Golf Championships back in November, he will be hoping to end his major drought. Similarly, Englishman Tommy Fleetwood has consistently performed well at majors, often falling short simply to opponents who have just taken their game that little step further – Shane Lowry’s recent Open performance being the best example.
One area that Europe will hope to continue to dominate is in the Ryder Cup, which returns to the men’s game this year. 2019 saw a thrilling victory for Europe in the women’s equivalent, the Solheim Cup, which took place just an hour away from St Andrews at Gleneagles. After a dominant performance in France two years ago, the men will hope to keep up this momentum by winning in Wisconsin come late September.
As for our very own town, the majority of BUCS fixtures got back underway on Wednesday, some of which have been reported on in this section. Having reported on some different sports myself in the previous semester, I can say there is a lot to be hopeful for going forward for a lot of the teams and I would like to finish by wishing all teams the very best of luck for the upcoming season.