Australia is still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic like the rest of the world, but it is the sport in the country that has been hit harder than most.
It has been negatively impacted after being forced to go behind closed doors, which has meant the loss of important income at the gates for many competitions. Meanwhile, broadcasting deals have also been impacted, as competitions have paused for an extended period of time.
The most popular sporting events were streamed by millions around the world while the suspension that was enforced meant that fans were no longer able to watch their favourite sports. In addition, this impacted sports punters as those usually used to betting on sports had fewer events to bet on.
Meanwhile, events around Australia that were attended by hundreds of thousands of people before lockdowns were imposed are also struggling to get back to the numbers that were recorded before COVID-19. But, which sports have been most negatively impacted by the pandemic, and what changes have needed to be made to ensure competitions can continue as normal?
Impact on Rugby League
Few sports are as popular as rugby league, which means that the announcement by the World Health Organization on the eve of the new NRL season in 2020 was worrying for both fans and those involved in the competition. However, the first round of fixtures still continued, but with decreased attendance at all fixtures. The first impact of the pandemic was felt by the New Zealand Warriors, who were forced to find a base in Australia to compete in the competition following new restrictions that were imposed by the New Zealand government. The second round of games saw few numbers in attendance before the season was suspended shortly afterwards.
That delay was imposed at the end of March, but the season resumed following guidance from the Australian Government. Furthermore, the season was shortened due to the measures, with the Melbourne Storm eventually being crowned winners following the Grand Final. The State of Origin series was also moved to November. Further rugby league disruption has continued throughout the second half of the year, as it was recently announced that the Rugby League World Cup, which was scheduled to take place later in the year, was to be re-arranged following New Zealand and Australia’s governing bodies revealing that they would not be travelling to the United Kingdom to compete.
Impact on Cricket
Cricket is another sport close to the hearts of Aussies, and has been one that has been impacted heavily by the pandemic. It is unsurprising, given the fact that national teams need to travel the world to compete, that a number of Aussie tours have been cancelled over the past couple of years. This includes a recently cancelled tour of South Africa, which was due to take place in February. That series was set to be a three-test tour, but Cricket Australia revealed that they had "no choice" except to re-arrange for another date.
The Australian cricket team were also scheduled to travel to England in the summer of 2020 for a string of ODI and T20 matches, but that was cancelled in May 2020. However, one event that is yet to be affected by the COVID pandemic is the Ashes, which is still set to take place later in the year, as England travels to Australia to fight for the Urn.
Impact on Aussie Rules
Aussie Rules was one of the first sports that was halted following the COVID outbreak, as the officials moved quickly to bring a suspension. The AFL season in 2020 was suspended on June 11. However, the annual Hall of Fame ceremony did happen, but it was a television special with no audience in attendance. Instead, pre-recorded messages from those awarded the honour were aired on television over a four-night series. The season did resume later in the year, but mostly behind closed doors. As well as that, the game time was also reduced, as games were played in quarters of 16 minutes instead of the traditional 20.
The competition was then forced to move due to a travel ban imposed by Queensland, which meant that players couldn’t travel from Victoria. That led to the AFL relocating all games to the latter. However, this soon changed again after lockdown measures were brought in, which meant games would be played in either Western Australia or Queensland for the last part of the season.
Impact on Boxing
As you could imagine, the pandemic has hit boxing harder than most sports, given that the fighters actually have to be in close contact with each other. Countries such as the United Kingdom have been forced to think outside the box, with promoted Eddie Hearn hosting events in his backyard during Matchroom’s Fight Camp.
Australian boxing has also been impacted over the past two years, with no fighter more so than George Kambosos Jr having to remain patient. The lightweight from Sydney was set to have his WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and The Ring title opportunity against Teofimo Lopez back in June in Miami, but the fight was cancelled for the first time and re-arranged at the new date of June 19. It was later pushed back again to August 14, but a positive test for Lopez then meant that a new date was to be decided.
It was recently announced that the lightweight bout will now take place on October 5 at the Hulu Theater in New York. Finding a location for the bout was also troublesome, as Triller did attempt to hold the fight in Australia, but that plan was quickly halted following the announcement that Lopez would need to isolate for two weeks. Further locations in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were also muted before deciding on New York.