Due to the contagious nature of coronavirus which is mostly known to be transmitted through respiratory droplets, mass gatherings and events came to a standstill after March 2020.
While technology has enabled people to witness some of them in the form of webinars and live sessions on platforms like Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams, others were either rescheduled or held without too many people.
The excitement and enthusiasm when it comes to Euro 2020, Tokyo Olympics and Dubai Expo 2020 is alive and kicking now. The UEFA European Football Championship kicked off on 11 June, 2021 and is presently ongoing. The Tokyo Olympics and the Dubai Expo are all set to open on 23 July and 1 October, 2021, respectively.
How sports changed during the pandemic - the advent of bio-bubbles
A lot of mega sporting events involve the participation of players from multiple nationalities, which is considered risky because COVID-19 is highly communicable and more so since there are too many variants of the virus.
This is where bio-bubbles come into the picture. The buzzword implies grouping participants and their respective managers or teams in a bubble is to avoid any form of physical interaction with individuals in the outside world. The bubble restricts the movement of everyone including the players, coaches, support staff and others in such a way that they can only do a to and fro from the designated hotel and the stadium.
Even while travelling, they need to take stringent precautions - from entering and exiting through designated private terminals in the airport to taking RT-PCR tests on a daily basis to ensure that the virus does not enter the bubble.
Hence, bio-bubbles are expected to be the norm in all large-scale sporting events in the near future.
Distinguished sporting events in the year gone by
Many sporting events around the globe and closer home were affected during the course of the health crisis.
The Tokyo Olympics, which is one of the most celebrated sporting events in the world, was initially slated to be held between July and August 2020. Nevertheless, Japan at the time disallowed the entry of foreign spectators, owing to the threat of coronavirus. So the event was rescheduled and is now expected to open on 23 July, 2021.
Anyway, the name has been retained as Tokyo 2020 as changing it to Tokyo 2021 would have needed a complete overhaul in terms of branding and marketing.
Originally anticipated to be held in June and July 2020, the football championship was postponed by exactly a year, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The glad tidings is that, presently, the 24-team pan-European football tournament has resumed with a bang. Some of the new conditions include - one less host city, reduced stadium capacities, stern COVID-19 safety protocols, travel restrictions and other testing requirements.
Tennis grand slams
Three of the four Grand Slams took place in 2020 itself. While the Australian Open was organised uninterruptedly even before the pandemic struck in January 2020, the French Open got postponed from May to September forcing the players and stakeholders to put up with harsh weather conditions, slow court speeds and delays. The organisers also limited the capacity to 1,000 people per day in the stadium.
Held behind closed doors, the US Open in New York implemented a slew of safety measures. If any player violated protocols, or tested positive for COVID-19, or was in contact with someone who tested positive, they were immediately asked to withdraw from the tournament.
On the flipside, Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time in July last year since the second World War in 1945.
Several cricket tours to England by visiting nations like West Indies and Pakistan, were held as per schedule in August and September 2020, behind closed doors. Nonetheless, the Indian team’s schedule was hampered due to the pandemic.
The 2021 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was postponed mid-way and will be hosted in September at UAE, with Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah being announced as the new venues. The T20 World Cup, which was also slated to be held in 2020, has also been deferred to 2021.
The case of Expo 2020 in Dubai
Expo 2020 Dubai, known to be one of the most exquisite exhibitions in the world, was rescheduled to 1 October, 2021.
The objective of the global event which generally has 192 participating nations is to build a better world. Its tagline is - 'Connecting Minds and Creating the Future’ through sustainability, mobility and opportunity.
Reem Al Hashimy, the Director General of Expo 2020 Dubai Bureau who also doubles up as the UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation, is optimistic that the roll-out of vaccines will be effective in improving the going forward.
Al Hashimy told Dubaieye, “We are actually beginning to finally see the strong impact of vaccination and the reduced prevalence of the COVID-19 in the society.”
Although the team at Expo 2020 Dubai will be fully vaccinated, Al Hashimy clarified that it won't be enforced on “tourists or visitors”.
An official statement from the organisers of the event read, “Visitors are not currently required to provide proof of vaccination to enter the Expo site. However, vaccination is strongly encouraged and vaccinated individuals will still be required to comply with safety measures, including wearing masks, social distancing and regular washing and sanitisation of hands.”
What lies in store for Qatar 2022
Today, vaccination drives are being organised in full swing in multiple countries, and following COVID-19 protocols are still imperative. The most important goal for the organisers of events is to ensure that the visitors and participants are fully vaccinated.
The organisers of the upcoming Football World Cup at Qatar in 2022 believe that it will be the first ever ‘happy event’ to take place after the pandemic.
During a recent video conference, H.E Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, stated that they are expecting the event to happen at full capacity.
"Right now, there are programmes under development to provide vaccines for all the attendees of the World Cup. Hopefully, we will be able to host a COVID-free event," he added.
It is too early to tell whether the sports and event management industries will be able to compensate for the descent caused in 2020. But, the expeditious actions taken by various stakeholders is making way for a bright and healthy future.
Edited by Roshni Shroff
Some resources and links to help you learn more about global events in the COVID-19 pandemic: