Rejoice! Tis the 31st of December, the absolute living hell that is 2020 is only a few hours away from being over. Before absolutely anything, I just want to say well done. The last twelve months have been absolutely horrible from the first month to the last. Wildfires, flooding, coronavirus, the death of George Floyd, seemingly never-ending lockdowns, uncertainty around employment, separation from loved ones for months on end, one of the most divisive elections in recent memory, the health service being stretched to the absolute maximum, and yet you made it through it all to put two fingers up to the last 12 months, I’m so proud of you. As millions of Facebook mums have said, this year has put so much into perspective and sport is no different. There were still big moments, Kansas finally had a winning team as did Liverpool, the Lakers won the NBA Championship for Kobe Bryant, and the Exeter Chiefs look to have started a rugby dynasty to name just a few. The hardship of this year can’t be overlooked, however it did bring out the best in many.
At the same time, it proved how little but how much our passion matters. Whilst the cancellation of more or less all sport back in March was completely needed, it left a massive hole in so many people’s lives. Seasons were stopped, Euro 2020 and the Olympics were postponed, jeopardy as to when sport would start up again, just nothing fun was happening in the world of sport. Sure there were reruns of old classics such as the 1966 World Cup Final, classic British Lions Tests and the always incredible third 2019 Ashes Test, but it still didn’t quite feel right. That’s why I spent my Saturdays in May watching 3 different Bundesliga games at the same time on various devices and the morning of VE-Day watching Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors against Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the restart of the K-1 League. We just missed it. As weird as it sounds, the return of sport was a real morale booster. I kind of doubted it when people said early on that it would be but they were 100 percent spot on. Credit has to be given to Nascar, a sport I’ve never watched but they played such an important role. The return of Nascar stateside proved to be a pivotal moment in showing how sporting bubbles work, a tactic that ensured cricket, basketball, baseball, and boxing were able to come back later in the year and that the NFL season could start on time.
Sportsmen and women contributed in many different ways in the fight against coronavirus. In the UK, footballers used their platform and financial ability to be able to help those who needed it most. Marcus Rashford will always be remembered as a hero for all the work he’s done to feed kids in poverty who rely on free school meals when the Government wouldn’t and voted against the motion of free school dinners during the Easter, Summer and half term holidays. Jordan Henderson started a fund for NHS workers, Wilfried Zaha offering NHS workers free accommodation, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs doing the same with their hotels. And Matt Hancock had the nerve to say Premiership footballers needed to do more to help others, how about your government does its job and looks after its people instead of the public having to rely on Premier League footballers and ex-pros helping out. Just a thought. Outside of the UK, Charlotte Hornets star Bismack Biyombo pledged $1 million worth of PPE to health workers of the Democratic Republic of Congo in their fight against the virus. Houston Texans Defensive End JJ Watt donated $350,000 to the Houston Food Bank in order to keep families in poverty fed. Joyce Sombroek, gold and silver medal winner in London 2012 and Rio 2016 and regarded one of the best women’s hockey goalkeepers of all time, completed her training as a GP in March and has been on the front lines in the Netherlands in their efforts to battle the disease. These are all just a select few of the countless heroes who have helped fight this virus, your actions aren’t going unnoticed and we can’t thank you enough.
Away from the world of covid-19 we saw more examples of sporting heroes. The Australian Open tennis tournament took place whilst wildfires were ravaging the Australian outback which led to Maria Sharapova, Nick Kyrgios, and Ashleigh Barty just to name a few donating portions of (or in Barty’s case, her whole) purses to the relief fund. Much closer to home, the South Wales Valleys were devastated by floods after Storm Dennis however the aftermath saw an incredible sense of community with the people of RCT helping each other out. Merthyr Town FC offered a free Sunday Dinner to emergency service workers while Taffs Well RFC players helped in the clear out of debris from houses. This kind of community spirit and togetherness proves how close knit people from this part of the world are. Although it may not have made major headlines, the actions of Merthyr Town, Taffs Well and countless volunteers in the aftermath of the storm and floods will be remembered for a long time in South Wales. Following the murder of George Floyd an outpouring of support came from sportspeople for black people around the world. Michael Jordan pledged $100 million over the next decade for racial equality groups and charities. Anthony Joshua spoke at a Black Lives Matter protest in London calling out racial inequality in the UK proving that it isn’t only an American issue. Lewis Hamilton wore BLM shirts throughout the remainder of the F1 season and wore one in the first week back demanding the arrest of the police that murdered Breonna Taylor. Sportspeople using their platform like this is so important and will inspire more to challenge racial inequality. Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow won the hearts and support of the nation for the incredible job he’s done in raising awareness of motor neurone disease, an absolutely devastating condition that has no known cure. Burrow’s former team mate and friend Kevin Sinfield helped with running 7 marathons in 7 days raising £2.6 million for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in a display of kind heartedness and friendship, god bless you Mr. Sinfield.
All in all, 2020’s been grim. Uncertainty about so much for so long was really heavy on all of us, but it looks like there’s some light at the end of a long, wet, nasty, dark, disgusting tunnel. 3 vaccines have been found to be at least 95 percent effective and 2 already approved by the UK government. Sportspeople showed how kind hearted they can be putting a definite end to the annoying stereotype that they only care about money and themselves because that just isn’t true. Here’s to 2021 where we’ll hopefully see crowds back at full capacity and a hell of a summer to look forward to with the postponed Olympics and Euros and the scheduled Lions Tour of South Africa. Because 2021, for the love of god and all that’s holy, you need to try harder than whatever the hell those last 12 months were.