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Prolonged COVID-19 pandemic changes sports

Posted October. 16, 2020 07:45,   

Updated October. 16, 2020 07:45


What would the sports world be like if the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic lingers for too long? A series of major changes happening in sports gives us a preview of its future. Here is a list of several up-to-date shifts in sports.

The boxing match between Iron Mike Tyson and boxing legend Muhammad Ali caught the attention of global fans. The two boxers fought hard enough to knock down each other in turn throughout 12 rounds in the game event held by the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) on March 29. Tyson defeated the all-time legend Ali by unanimous decision (3-0). Interestingly, Tyson and Ali did not fight in the ring in person as Ali died at the age of 74 back in 2016. The eye-catching boxing match was an AR-based event where virtual characters fought each other with the real ones’ skills and play patterns programmed in them. Being told of his winning of the virtual game with Ali, Tyson said that he could never have beaten up Ali if it had been a real game, describing it as a mere illusion. Live streaming on social media, the one-time sports show was designed to keep boxing fans interested and promote the prosperity of the field as COVID-19 made it impossible to open match events with large-scale audiences in presence.

Next, a new type of soccer came along according to The New York Times. As part of efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the State of Massachusetts put in place new game rules in high school soccer games starting from late August. As of now, high school soccer players are not supposed to have physical contact with one another during matches, which automatically means that it is against the rule to make tackles. A distance between players during games must be more than 1.82 meters. Athletes are not allowed to grab the soccer ball with their hands and let it touch their face. No headers. No throw-ins. It is mandatory to wear a mask at all times. The New York Times asked, “Is this still soccer?”

The South Korean national football team and the Olympic football team played the second round friendly match in Goyang Stadium, Gyeonggi Province on Monday. The long-awaited match was supposed to open with empty stands. However, the relaxation of the government’s social distancing restrictions allowed up to three thousand spectators to come in the stadium. It turned out that only 2,075 soccer fans came to the stadium.

Although the virtual game between Tyson and Ali may feel like a far cry from sports in the real world, they are closely correlated with each other because the virtual boxers in the game were built to demonstrate the real ones’ physical characteristics and match data. The fusion of real-world sports and virtual space is becoming a mainstream trend across various sports fields. For example, online football games are widely enjoyed across the globe where real-world players turn into virtual characters. Experts analyze that a growing popularity of the World Cup and other football game events may draw more online game users and in turn make football games in the real world more popular than otherwise. Thus, such a collaborative project can broaden the horizons of sports and promote its prosperity.

A series of changes in the form and shape of sports games emerging in the era of COVID-19 may stir some controversy but it may be hard to keep them from happening in the first place. These changes are the result of today’s needs and demands. Where they are headed from now on depends on what lies in the future.

Won-Hong Lee bluesky@donga.com