An empty basketball arena with the court lit up
The COVID-19 pandemic brought most sports in North America and around the world to an abrupt halt in March 2020. (Photo via Boston Globe)

In March 2020, COVID-19 abruptly halted sport as we know it across almost all ages, levels, and communities in North America and much of the world. In a matter of days we went from sport to no sport—from sport everywhere to nowhere. So what does this mean for sports fans and for society in general? What are the implications of a society without sport?

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A male soccer player in a blue jersey kneels in a soccer stadium.
Mason Holgate of Everton kneels before a Premier League match against Liverpool on June 21, 2020. (Photo by Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images)

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in June 2020, Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol, England pulled down a statue of Edward Colston from its pedestal, dragged it through the city’s streets and dumped it into the harbour. Colston, who some revered for his philanthropic donations to schools and hospitals, was a 17th century slave trader. He made his fortune through his involvement in the Royal African Company, a mercantile corporation that oversaw the forced removal, transportation and annihilation of hundreds of thousands of Black Africans. The dismantling of his statue – which had stood for 125 years – was an iconic event in the demonstrations across the United Kingdom, adding new momentum to campaigns to remove or replace public monuments, and to rename buildings that have racist, colonial connections.

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A baseball game takes place at night in an empty stadium
Thanks to successful efforts at mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Taiwan’s professional baseball league began its season on April 11 (photo by Gene Wang/Getty Images)

Since COVID-19 has shut down sporting events in North America and many parts of the world, sports fans are desperately trying to find anything to watch. In North America, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League had to suspend their seasons indefinitely, NCAA March Madness was cancelled, and Major League Baseball, which was set to start the season at the end of March, has not yet decided on a potential date to open the 2020 season despite creative contingent plans being floated around by league officials. With no baseball games on the schedule in North America, baseball enthusiasts can turn to Taiwan, where its professional baseball league started the season on April 11. To abide by social distancing policies of Taiwan, no fans are allowed in stadiums, but robot spectators fill the bleachers in lieu of actual people.

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A white women with long hair, wearing glasses and a coat stands in a field with bushes and trees in the background.
During the current suspension of sport due to COVID-19, we should consider the importance of “doing nothing” for a healthy, happy life (photo of artist Jenny Odell, author of “How to Do Nothing,” by Ryan Meyer)

The COVID-19 pandemic has systemically disrupted sport organizations and spectator sporting events around the world. Major and minor sporting events have been cancelled, youth sports have been put on hold, and professional leagues have followed the National Basketball Association (NBA) in suspending their current seasons. “Social distancing” largely underpins these unprecedented adjustments, as sport organizations heed the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The disruptions will undoubtedly result in a financial hit for leagues, teams and players, and exacerbate the precarious economic situations of low-wage stadium and arena workers. For women’s sports, the pandemic has meant the sudden interruption of recent progress made in the push for greater financial equity and media coverage. Amidst fears of a pending economic recession, American consumers now must adapt to living without much of their common sporting entertainment for at least the near future.

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Celtic FC players in green and white striped jerseys raise their arms in celebration on a soccer field
Celtic FC players celebrate their 2-1 victory over Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup (AP/Press Association Images via Celtic Quick News)

While St. Patrick’s Day gives people of Irish descent around the world an opportunity to celebrate their heritage, soccer serves a key role with regard to Irish ethnicity in Scotland—and on a much more frequent basis than once a year. To help understand this we need to go back to May 25, 1967, when Celtic Football Club of Scotland defeated Inter Milan, 2-1, to become the first club from outside of Spain, Portugal, or Italy to win the European Cup (now the UEFA Champions League). Recognised as the most prestigious soccer trophy in Europe, only 22 clubs have managed to win it since its initiation in 1956.

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Photo by Chris Phutully.

The X League is an arena women’s tackle football league where women pay to play full contact, scantily clad, televised, football. Arena football has slightly different rules than traditional football with no field goals or extra-point kicks. Several arena football leagues exist, but the X League has one unique quality. In the X League, players wear bikini-like “performance apparel” and modified equipment, such as hockey helmets, less leg padding, and modified shoulder pads that do not cover their chests

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US President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a cricket stadium, in Ahmedabad, India, in front of a large crowd of people.
U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive for a “Namaste Trump,” event in Ahmedabad, India. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

After emphasizing that “America loves India” during the “Namaste Trump” event, President Donald Trump opened his address with several references to India’s most popular sport, cricket. A crowd of more than 100,000 responded with cheers.

“Five months ago, the United States welcomed your great prime minister at a giant football stadium in Texas,” Trump noted on Feb. 24. “And today India welcomes us at the world’s largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.” Next, Trump mentioned Indian cricket stars Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, although he mispronounced the names and was called out by social media users, including the sport’s governing body, the International Cricket Council.

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Spectators are seated watching eSports competitors on a stage. A large screen above the competitors displays the game they are playing.
Women who participate in eSports online frequently receive sexualized comments. (photo by Philippe Wojazer / Reuters)

Electronic sports, also known as eSports or competitive video gaming, may be a subject of laughter or mockery for some traditional sports enthusiasts, but for a growing number of fans they are a serious and lucrative matter. The eSports game “League of Legends,” for example, garnered a peak viewership of 200 million during the November 2018 broadcast of the World Championships. Despite this growth, anecdotal accounts and emerging research regarding the experiences of women in eSports point to troubling issues, as women report being harassed, threatened, and isolated within the realm of eSports. In light of such issues, we conducted a two-part study (read the full study here) to understand the nature of feedback women receive in the eSports community. The results of our first study suggest that women and men eSports participants do not perceive gender differences with respect to the criticism they receive. A follow up study, however, suggests that women who play eSports receive a substantial number of sexualized comments.

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A surfer in the air above a large wave with snow-capped mountains in the background.
Head injuries are prevalent in many action sports, such as surfing. (photo by Marcus Paladino Photography)

People often associate concussions with traditionally hard-hitting sports like football, ice hockey, boxing, and rugby. In fact, most concussion research, to date, has focused on these types of sports. Those who study concussions have given little attention to non-contact, individual, and alternative sport settings such as surfing, despite studies indicating high rates of head injuries in many of these types of activities. As an avid surfer who does research on action sport subcultures, I recently conducted a study that explored concussion among surfers on the Canadian West Coast.

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Combat sports, such as mixed martial arts (MMA), involve substantial risk of physical injury. (Photo by Gregg Rich Photo.)

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a combat sport that involves a combination of different fighting styles. As it has gained prominence in mainstream cultures, MMA has introduced the world to a variety of martial disciplines, such as wrestling (grappling), Muay Thai (striking), and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (submission grappling). Given that the goal of an MMA competitor is to defeat an opponent, which can occur by way of a knockout or submission (e.g., “tapping out” due to pain or injury), the sport involves a substantial level of physical risk.  When a fighter inflicts visible damage on an opponent, it is categorized under what the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), one of the world’s biggest MMA organizations, calls “significant strikes.”

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