Sport, and its unrivalled sense of drama and escapism, has perhaps never been needed more than in 2020 with the world grinding to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As the deadly virus swept across the world, plunging the vast majority of the planet going into lockdown by March, the sporting year unfolded with a vast difference to what was anticipated. The Tokyo Olympic Games, Euro 2020 and Wimbledon were just a few of the landmark events that were postponed due to Covid-19.
Gradually, events tentatively began to return behind closed doors. Liverpool claimed the Premier League title, their first domestic triumph since 1990. The West Indies made it to England for a Test series that symbolised the power of the Black Lives Matter movement, encapsulating how sport can be such a powerful vehicle for change among wider society.
There were moments of shock and horror, too. Novak Djokovic’s ill-tempered swipe of a tennis ball between points at the US Open hit a line judge in the neck, while Romain Grosjean made an unbelievable escape from a fireball at the Bahrain Grand Prix in November. There was also the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter accident in Los Angeles in January.
Let’s not forget, too, that there were events at the beginning of 2020 where fans were in attendance, sampling the joy and spectacle of sport live and in person. Las Vegas claimed centre stage in the early months of the year with two sensational events in UFC and boxing. History is not likely to reflect well upon the pictures from the scenes in March in the United Kingdom, however, at events that shouldn’t have gone ahead with thousands of people in attendance as coronavirus was starting to spread.
Sportsmail picks 10 of the most dramatic images of the remarkable sporting year that 2020 has been.
CONOR MCGREGOR BEATS DONALD ‘COWBOY’ CERRONE IN 40 SECONDS
Conor McGregor made a storming return to the Octagon in UFC 246, defeating Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone in just 40 seconds in front of a packed T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on January 18. The Irishman, fighting for the first time since his defeat by nemesis Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018, went straight after his opponent, striking with a huge left hand before following up with an unorthodox shoulder blow while in a clinch. McGregor then hit him with a stunning kick that crumpled Cerrone to cap a merciless, blistering display. ‘I made history tonight,’ roared a jubilant McGregor. ‘I set a new record. I’m the first fighter in UFC history to secure knockout victories at featherweight, at lightweight and now at welterweight.’ But the Irishman, 31, did not fight again in 2020 and stunned UFC when he announced another retirement in June. In November, McGregor U-turned once again and he is expected to fight Dustin Poirier in early 2021.
KOBE BRYANT DIES IN A HELICOPTER CRASH
The sporting world was plunged into mourning when, on January 27, a helicopter carrying NBA legend Kobe Bryant crashed in Calabasas, California, killing everyone on board including Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Bryant, who was 41, is widely considered as one of the best players in the history of NBA and played for the Los Angeles Lakers throughout his entire career. Tributes to Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, flooded in from across the world of sport while murals remembering him gradually popped up across the city of Los Angeles. Here, Lakers fans stand to celebrate in front of one showing Bryant and his daughter Gianna with angel wings, following their team’s emotional victory against Miami Heat in Game Six of the NBA Finals on October 11. The Lakers dedicated their Finals’ triumph to Bryant, with player Antony Davis saying: ‘I know he’s looking down on us and proud of us. It means a lot to us. He was a big brother to all of us and we did this for him.’
TYSON FURY DEFEATS DEONTAY WILDER
Back in Las Vegas, Tyson Fury produced the finest performance of his career to date with a stunning seventh round KO of Deontay Wilder at the MGM Grand Arena to claim the WBC heavyweight belt. The two fierce rivals returned to the ring after their gripping draw in December 2018 and the Gypsy King pumelled the Bronze Bomber, arguably the most dangerous puncher in the heavyweight division, in a style that few predicted – apart from Fury himself, of course. ‘I’m a man of my word. I told Wilder, his team, the world,’ Fury said afterwards. ‘We trained for a knockout. I talk like this because I can back it up.’ Fury floored the American in the third and fifth round before Wilder’s corner threw in the towel in round seven. Fury, who did not fight again in 2020, is expected to finally take on British rival Anthony Joshua in 2021 in a hotly anticipated showdown that will see the heavyweight division united by the victor, while Wilder is still pushing for a third fight with Fury.
CORONAVIRUS SHUTS SPORT DOWN
On March 11, 52,000 people piled into Anfield to watch Liverpool face Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie, despite the outbreak of coronavirus. Madrid was already in a partial lockdown but 3,000 Atletico supporters were allowed to travel to Merseyside for the game. That decision has since been majorly scrutinised. In May, NHS modelling claimed hosting the match with that big a crowd led to 41 extra deaths on Merseyside from people who tested positive for Covid-19 from March 19 to April 1, while the mayor of Madrid said in April that it was a mistake to allow people to travel from Spain to watch the match, which Atletico won 3-2. Alvaro Morata is pictured celebrating in front of the travelling Atletico fans after scoring in the 120th minute of the game, which went into extra-time and saw the Spanish side knock holders Liverpool out of the competition. The next day, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus and football in England was paused for over three months to combat the spread of the disease while the country soon went into lockdown.
That same week, the four-day Cheltenham races were held in spite of the growing Covid-19 outbreak. Around 150,000 people attended the event, which was held across four days and ended just 10 days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the United Kingdom into lockdown. The government gave the event the go-ahead and said it was following the relevant scientific advice at the time but there have since been calls for an inquiry into why the races were held at all and NHS modelling linked 37 deaths to the event. Here, fans are pictured watching the runners and riders in the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle on March 11.
LIVERPOOL WIN THE PREMIER LEAGUE
The Premier League returned in late June and when Chelsea beat Manchester City on June 25, Liverpool were crowned Premier League winners – their first domestic success since 1990. Then, Jurgen Klopp’s side had gathered at a hotel in Formby to celebrate their achievement and the following month, on July 22 inside an empty Anfield, Liverpool’s squad finally got their hands on the trophy after beating Chelsea in a thrilling 5-3 victory. Few could ever have envisaged Anfield being anything other than packed full of supporters with a major outpouring of emotion at their 30-year wait for glory being brought to an end, but Liverpool’s squad had to make the atmosphere for themselves as they celebrated their triumph behind closed doors. Here, the Liverpool team gather in front of an empty Kop stand that had been draped in flags for a team photograph as captain Jordan Henderson hoists the trophy aloft.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
England became the first nation to host Test cricket in the Covid-19 era when the West Indies flew over and isolated before a three-match series starting in July that became remembered for something far more powerful. Here, the West Indies players and England batsmen Rory Burns and Dom Sibley take a knee for 30 seconds in support of the Black Lives Matter movement before the first ball of the first Test at Old Trafford in Manchester. The BLM movement swept across the world in 2020 after horrifying footage emerged of the death of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. In a distressing video, white police officer Derek Chauvin is filmed pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck while he’s pinned to the floor during an arrest, despite Floyd saying 20 times that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd was later pronounced dead in hospital and Chauvin is facing charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. The gesture of taking a knee also came to prominence in 2016 through NFL star Colin Kaepernick, who did so during the National Anthem of the United States to protest police brutality and racism. The West Indies players are also pictured raising a first – the Black Power salute. ‘It meant the world to me,’ West Indies captain Jason Holder told Sky Sports about the gesture. ‘The support from everyone, everyone understanding the moment, everyone understanding the occasion. To see both teams coming together the way they did sent a really strong message.’
NOVAK DJOKOVIC DISQUALIFIED FROM THE US OPEN
World No 1 tennis star Novak Djokovic was disqualified from the US Open in September when, in a flash of temper between points, he hit a tennis ball away in frustration that struck line judge Laura Clark in the throat. The Serb initially pleaded innocence in an attempt to avoid being kicked out of the Grand Slam event at Flushing Meadows, saying that the woman was not seriously hurt. ‘She doesn’t have to go to the hospital for this,’ he said as he stood at the net with a stunned look in his face. ‘You’re going to choose a default in this situation? My career, Grand Slam, centre stage?’ Eventually, Djokovic walked off and he later apologised for ‘causing her such stress’, saying his swipe was ‘so unintended, so wrong’. It was another low in a controversial year for Djokovic, who organised the disastrous Adria Tour around the Balkans, which needed to be abandoned when numerous participants, including himself and his wife, tested positive for Coronavirus. The guiding principle behind the exhibition series seemed to be that Covid-19 was something that could be overlooked, and there was a marked lack of social distancing running through the whole production.
AN OCTOBER LONDON MARATHON
The London Marathon eventually went ahead on October 4 in a specially designed closed-loop course to offset any fears around the spread of Covid-19. The race typically takes place in April, on a route across the city, but it was rescheduled to later in the year and the event was held in a circuit around St James’ Park on a cold and wet autumnal Sunday morning. Pictured is winner Shura Kitata crossing the line in what was a major upset as the hot favourite was world record holder and four-time winner Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. Kitata won with a time of two hours, five minutes and 41 seconds. His secret? A good breakfast. ‘I had soup, bread, eggs and yogurt – everything that I could to boost my energy and it helped me keep my energy up and I was able to win the battle,’ the 24-year-old told BBC Sport Africa. ‘I ate everything!’ Kipchoge, the only man to run a marathon in under two hours, fell behind with two laps to go and ended up finishing eighth.
ROMAIN GROSJEAN ESCAPES DEATH
Haas driver Romain Grosjean emerges from the flames in a miraculous escape after his car burst into a fireball upon hitting the crash barrier at the Bahrain Grand Prix on November 29. After 28 seconds in the inferno the Frenchman, who is a father of three, managed to wriggle out of the cockpit and escape to safety but later admitted that he thought he was going to die in the accident. Reliving the ordeal, which he said ‘felt more like 90 seconds’, Grosjean explained: ‘I was almost at peace with myself, thinking, “I’m dead. I will die”. Death was in front of my face. I thought about my kids and I said, ‘No. I cannot die today. For my kids, I cannot die today’. Grosjean, 34, had burns to his left hand as well as ligament damage – he has since undergone surgery to repair the ligament issue and to clean his wounds. He was due to retire at the end of the season. The Bahrain GP was the penultimate race on the Formula One calendar for 2020 and Grosjean hoped for a farewell at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but missed it in order to receive further treatment to his burns.