Mid-pandemic mayhem: How the future of sports may look like

MANILA, Philippines – Last April 27, the world looked on from the comfort of their homes as a boxing match between two little-known fighters pushed through in Nicaragua.

It was a surreal sight met with raised eyebrows across nations as Ramiro Blanco and Robin Zamora headlined an eight-fight card in the midst of a crippling pandemic.

Fighters and cornermen were intermittently sprayed with disinfectant while mask-wearing ring girls paraded around the ring to a limited, socially-distanced audience, who were given free tickets just to watch the event.

While the event was an outlier to the halted sporting world, many promotions and leagues are still racing to get things back to normal for the sake of their fans and/or financial security, whichever they value more.

The NBA is currently in the process of reworking the rest of its suspended season, while the UFC is hell-bent on pushing through with its UFC 249 card despite fighters being pulled out due to positive virus tests.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the other side of the world as South Korea, one of the virus' early epicenters, cautiously kicked off its football K-League last Friday, May 8.

Over a thousand tests to players and staff, all of which turned out to be negative, needed to be carried out just so the league can resume in empty stadiums.

Assuming that governments and sports leagues religiously stick to the World Health Organization virus playbook, it will be extremely difficult for sports to return even in its most restrictive form, away from its millions of followers who provide the backbone of its existence.

With the virus vaccine apparently months or even years away from public use, the sports world may have just moved into their own version of a "new normal."

Wrestling with reality

The WWE is one of the few promotions that bravely or foolishly – depending on perspective – continued its operations to a closed-door format even as coronavirus was declared a pandemic last March.

The declaration was dropped smack dab in the middle of the build-up to its flagship event that traditionally draws historic numbers of fans – WrestleMania.

In one of the earliest visual examples of a sports world under the new normal, WrestleMania 36 pushed on inside the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida in front of exactly zero fans.

The event almost immediately turned awkward as the wrestlers' powerful and acrobatic stunts were met with deafening silence, apart from the commentators' spirited calls in the foreground.

For a predetermined sport largely dependent on massive crowd reactions, this empty ambience for the WWE's largest annual event was the depressing result of a compromise that needed to be made for the show to go on.

And for other sports, this will more likely be the outcome as well, and that's putting it optimistically.

Squeaky sneakers will echo endlessly as players let out primal roars to empty arenas.

From thunderous dunks to last-second penalty kicks, each stellar play from the world's best athletes will be rewarded with scattered cheers and applause from team members likely sitting two chairs apart on the bench.

With their primary sources of inspiration locked away in their homes, players are left to motivate themselves as the big question arises: Is all this really worth it at this time?

Essentially inessential?

That question is being floated as the US state of Florida declared sports an essential service, and there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the court.

On one hand, resumption of sports will be economically beneficial to the sports leagues currently bleeding out thousands, and even millions of dollars, amid the ongoing stoppage and will also provide much-needed entertainment to fans across the globe.

However, the facts remain that this pandemic currently has no cure in sight and that people are dying by the thousands every day as hospitals around the world are being overrun and pushed way past their capacities.

In terms of whether or not the declaration was a responsible one, Michael David Smith of NBC Sports summed it up best.

"Just because putting on pro sporting events in Florida is legal, however, doesn't mean it's responsible. Allowing nationally televised pro sports to take place is about the state of Florida making money off lucrative businesses, not about health and safety."

At this point, even getting to the "new normal" start point has been a massive hurdle for sports. During a time when the world is busy with actual essential tasks, sports has been set aside and will likely stay that way until some semblance of order has been restored.

It may be painful for many fans and league owners, but this is the reality humanity is currently in right now. This is the world's "new normal," and right now, there is just no place in it for sports to thrive. – Rappler.com