“Necessity is the mother of invention.”.
The pandemic has made this quote come alive in real-time. When the dreaded virus first struck the world of sports, it lead to the stopping of global sports, a phenomena unheard of in peace times. Lockdowns helped prevent it for a while. The use of bubbles was able to further aid the restarting of sports and let some form of normalcy resume. However, the virus mutated, as viruses are wont to do, and as cases spiralled across the country, more and more athletes and coaches have gotten infected in major cities like Bengaluru, Delhi and Patiala. The dreaded second wave had hit. The economic slump caused by the Covid-19 pandemic could alter the sports industry in ways unthinkable. Some sports will be hit harder than others. The economic framework of international cricket is likely to change and lower-ranked nations will face a crisis in funds. Sports like hockey face a questionable future simply due to the nature of funding. That’s not to say they won’t survive, but the manner of survival for a once-prestigious sport is questionable.
“The key revenue generation for sports bodies is through licensing of television broadcast rights. With the stoppage in sporting events, it is likely that most sporting bodies will face financial hits. Indian cricket could be relatively better placed. Smaller countries like West Indies, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka could face challenges if their respective media contracts are not renewed,” says Manish Desai, partner in Deloitte India. He also adds that sports other than cricket might find it difficult to return to normal in India, since they do not possess the depth of financial pockets.
There are various sports which have been hit hard by the pandemic and the global lockdowns. Let’s have a look at them:
Cricket: Indian cricket saw the series against South Africa abandoned due to the virus back in March 2020 and still searches for a window for the resumption of the IPL 2021 season which had to be suspended indefinitely after a bunch of players got infected in the bubble. However, Indian cricket could still emerge with a bigger role to play moving ahead. Cricket is likely to see a return of the Big 3 revenue-sharing model, with the bigger share going to India, England and Australia, a financial model originally prepared to combat the 2008 recession.
Veteran South African administrator and former ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat had told that this would mean a battle for survival for the weaker nations.
Football: The Indian Super League (ISL) final was conducted in an empty stadium in Goa on March 14, 2020. The I-League season was halted, with the Neroca vs Chennai City 2-2 draw becoming the last match of the season. The season was eventually called off with 23 matches left and Mohun Bagan were crowned champions. The postponement of the U-17 Women’s Football World Cup, which was to be hosted in India in November was also a cause for concern, though for now India is set to host it in 2022. The Olympics: Olympic sports are divided into five categories. Each international federation receives money from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) depending on their audience and size. With the postponement of the Games, the IOC is likely to freeze these payments. This, in turn, is set to affect the ecosystem of many sports in India. To make matters worse, many athletes have also been infected. While Olympic-bound rifle shooter Deepak Kumar tested positive in Delhi, a high number of athletes and coaches got infected at the South Centre. Among those infected were a top athletics coach, who remains hospitalized, a walker, a long jumper and top middle and long distance runners. One source said, “Among those who are positive include junior hockey players, top athletes including Priyanka Goswami and Jinson Johnson, their support staff and three coaches including one foreign coach.” The sources said veteran middle and long distance coach Renu Kohli, who tested positive, was shifted to a hospital on April 7th. Covid has hit the preparations of the Olympic-bound women’s boxing team too after Simranjit Kaur tested positive. After Simranjit’s positive result, the authorities have decided to indefinitely halt training for the boxers.
Hockey: Even before the pandemic, hockey had a questionable existence in most nations, with the exception of India, Netherlands and Australia to some extent. But even with the top nations struggling to keep this sport alive, combined with the current fragile situation of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and an unsure future, it is feared that the sport could be headed for a turbulent period.
Can sports make its return to normalcy?
“We will have to live with the threat of the Corona virus,” said Mr. Desai from Deloitte, and warned that sports might never return fully to the way it was before 2020.
It could also see the death of smaller sporting leagues. Big sporting brands like IPL and NBA will survive, said Simon Chadwick, director of the Centre for Eurasian Sport Industry at Lyon-based Emlyon Business School.
“Smaller clubs, the smaller teams, the smaller organisations, the smallest sports, are saying we’re not in a position to sustain,” he said.
The first step towards making a return to normal will be for the respective sporting bodies to sit with the government and chart out their road maps, Desai said. He said there were two ways in which the return to normalcy will take place. The first is that fans are allowed back and social distancing norms are maintained in stadiums, but that too will depend on the covid numbers in that location.
The other is that sports be held in empty stadiums for the time being, with a focus on improving the viewing experience for the fans.