The year 2020 witnessed a paucity of live sport like we hadn’t seen in decades. For fans, it meant staying away from stadiums for a large part of the 12 months. For the writers at Scroll.in, it meant a chance to reflect on events in the past and take stock of what’s to come. This year-end series is a personal take on what watching sports in 2020 was like.
Watching sports is great fun, but watching sport from the stadium is the real deal. In 2020 though, the reality was different.
For months there was no live sport at all, and even when it returned, the stadium kept its doors closed for fans, understandably so.
Not being able to watch a game in the stadium might seem not seem like a huge loss considering what the world has been going through in the last few months. It’s not something a lot of people do on a regular basis anyway. But when they do it, the memories are forever.
Take the case of Liverpool fans, for example. Their team ended a 30-year-long, agonising wait for the Premier League title. For many, it was a first in their lifetime. For some, it was a first since begore their turned grey. But none could be there at Anfield to witness that piece of history when Jordan Henderson lifted the trophy. So many of those fans would have rehearsed that moment in their minds for years, but the pandemic robbed them of it. Yes, the joy of being English champions again was still there, but for those 50,000 that could have been there, it’s a loss that can never be made up.
Imagine deleting India’s 2011 ICC World Cup win from the minds of the fans who were there at the Wankhede stadium when MS Dhoni smashed that six. Or imagine attending Sachin Tendulkar’s last match at the same venue two years later, and sitting through his emotional last speech never happened for those who were there. They would consider their lives to be poorer without it.
Fans won’t remember each one of the thousands of matches they watched on television but would remember every bit of the one they watched in the stadium. Even if it may be just another game, and not the one where your team won a World Cup or a Premier League or some other big title.
Then there are those sets of fans that pride themselves on going to the stadiums week in, week out and supporting their teams through the thick and thin, especially in games like football, basketball and rugby. It might feel like a privilege, but it takes a lot from a financial, physical and emotional point of view, to never miss watching your team play live. It’s an absolutely integral part of their lives.
We’ve often seen the issue of a lack of fans in stadiums being addressed from the sport’s point of view or from the players’ perspective and even from the position of a TV viewer, but there have been few takes on what these fans have been through during the last ten months. We often say, what’s sports without its fans but have you ever wondered what it is for these fans without sports?
Sport is enjoyable for the spontaneous emotions it provides, and it’s at the peak inside a stadium. In 2020, that joy was lost.
For those covering sports, the feeling is a bit different. Being in the stadium at the time of a match is a matter of bread and butter. Press boxes, which are often seen from the outside as the best seats in the house, become workplaces. It’s the only place in the stadium where a goal is not always cheered for or a wicket is not always celebrated. At times, the place also carries the tension of a newsroom with the growing pressure of the deadline challenges your ability to put every detail into words.
Yet, when sports journalists sit down in nostalgia about the most cherished moment of their careers, it involves being at a live game. It can be a famous interview with a player, a tale of a moment that fans on TV can’t see, or being part of a sensational press conference that’s remembered for years.
Journalism is slowly becoming remote and it has never been more like that than in 2020. Physical, face-to-face interviews, press conferences and interactions have been shifted over to digital platforms with the coaches, players not even being able to see the man behind the question, in certain cases.
The mic that would typically rotate in a press conference among journalists scampering to get their questions through has been replaced by a dialogue box in the chat window. The box allows you complete freedom to ask your question of any kind, but the power to take that question to the concerned person now rests very much with the online moderator who can cherry-pick the questions that suit his narrative. The need to curb journalists’ voices has, perhaps, been there for long but never have the times and its subsequent tools lent such a helping hand.
The optimistic part of a characteristically cynical journalist hopes this change won’t survive the test of time.
A sports journalist, despite wearing the coat of a professional, is deep down a fan. They may not sing and shout their way through the game as the fan in the stand, but cherishes bits about the game in the same way. In addition, the license to speak to players, coaches and the other members involved in the game is an opportunity to not just make your presence felt among them but also to gain much-needed perspective that they can then pass on to the masses.
In 2020, that wasn’t the case as journalists, just like fans, were left at the mercy of the broadcasters and organisers to watch and consume sport. And thus just like the fans, journalists may have lost out on moments that would have enhanced their coverage and maybe even elevated their careers.
Over the years, many journalists would have taken attending live games and sport events for granted, but 2020 quite typically has provided a reality check. As 2021 nears, one can only hope for a quick return to the press boxes, as after 2020, the only way is up.