I believe it’s a been a good while since we’ve seen important sports contests in America cancelled or postponed due to the Wuhan coronavirus. The Washington Nationals were unable to play the opening couple of games in April 2021 because a fair number of players were covid infected. Around the same time, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) was unable to participate in the NCCA men’s basketball tournament for the same reason. But I’m not aware of significant cancellations or postponements since then.
We might see some in 2022, though. I base this concern on what’s happening with soccer in England right now.
The coronavirus has ripped through the squad of Tottenham Hotspur, one of the top English teams. It forced the calling off of a showdown between Spurs and Rennes, a French side that the Londoners were due to face in a play-in game for the Europa League — the second-tier European club competition.
The result was something of a “diplomatic” incident. Spurs tried to reschedule the game for mid-December, but Rennes refused. The Brittany team wanted to win by forfeit, thus securing advancement to Europa.
As I understand it, the powers-that-be have decided the game will not be played at all, but have not yet determined which team will be deemed to have forfeited. (Most likely it will be Spurs, whose supporters might not be too disappointed to exit a competition that stirs little passion and consumes energy that can be devoted to the EPL.)
Speaking of the EPL, Spurs also had to cancel their match scheduled for this past weekend against Brighton. And although I understand they have returned to training and now have enough cleared players to field a team against Leicester City this Thursday, that match looks to be in serious jeopardy, too. Among other concerns is the fact that the virus is now sidelining Leicester players.
Manchester United is also suffering from an outbreak. The club cancelled all first-team training and reportedly is negotiating with the Premier League about postponing its match against Brentford, which is scheduled for tomorrow in London.
The spread of the virus in soccer dressing rooms corresponds to an increase of new cases in the UK. On December 10, the number of new daily cases reached 57,000. The last time there were that many new reported cases in a day was in mid-January of this year.
Fortunately, the number of new deaths in the UK attributed to the virus hasn’t increased appreciably yet. This is also the case in South Africa, where the number of new infections soared due to the Omicron variant. (I take it that the spike in new cases in the UK is also due in part to that more easily transmittable variant.)
Given what is happening in England, there’s a good chance we’ll begin to see a disruption of sports in America. The new variant has made its way here and we’re seeing a pretty significant rise in new cases per day. However, unlike in the UK, our number hasn’t approached record highs.
The increase here might be due mainly to colder weather. But the weather isn’t going to get warmer for quite a while.
Cold weather plus the new variant might well lead to new daily cases in the U.S. approaching all-time highs, as they have done in the UK. If so, this could easily likely lead to significant disruptions in our sports — cancellations, postponements, and limitations on (or exclusion of) crowds.
Early indications are that a high volume of new cases isn’t likely to lead to deaths on anything like the scale of last winter. Most Americans are vaccinated now and there’s reason to think, tentatively, that the new variant is less deadly than the worst of its predecessors.
Thus, there’s no need to panic, even if, like me, you’re addicted to watching sports. But don’t be surprised if, for a while, our return to normal sports viewing is interrupted somewhat.