Sportspocalypse 2020: Have we endured this before?

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the stoppage of play in virtually every major sport around the world. Is this bizarre occurence the first of its kind?


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The sports world came to an abrupt stop following the coronavirus diagnosis of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

Forty-nine. That’s the number of consecutive days fans have suffered through without live sports.

Without soccer, baseball, basketball, or hockey, just to name a few, sports-deprived fans are left wondering how to occupy themselves during these unprecedented times. Many are so desperate that they are willing to watch any sporting event on TV, from the ACL Cornhole Series to the 2006 Krystal World Hamburger Eating Championship (a must-watch for competitive eating fans).

However, history has a way of repeating itself. This is not the first time fans throughout the world have been left craving live sports for long periods of time, albeit not under such sweeping orders. Since the advent of professional sports, there have been numerous instances of prominent athletic events coming to a screeching halt.

Way back in 1918, the H1N1 pandemic, commonly known as the Spanish flu, swept the globe, peaking in the fall of that year. A whopping one-third of the world’s population was infected with the deadly disease, resulting in 20 to 50 million deaths. The pandemic’s effects were felt all through the sports world, captured perfectly by the Los Angeles Daily Times: “Quarantine order hits all sports except duck hunting,” read the headline on October 12, 1918.

The NHL decided to cancel the 1919 Stanley Cup Final midway through the series after Canadiens defenseman Joe Hall collapsed on the ice mid-game after falling ill to the Spanish flu. As for the Cup itself, it reads “Series Not Completed” beside the year 1919.

While college football did not cancel their 1918 season entirely, around one-quarter of all major programs made the decision to drop their seasons, including the Missouri Valley Conference (now the Big 12). As for the teams that went on with their seasons, they played truncated schedules, with Michigan and Pitt sharing the national title with records of 5-0-0 and 4-1-0, respectively.

In the world of boxing, the heavyweight fight between Jack Dempsey and Battling Levinsky was postponed until November of 1918. Soccer club FC Barcelona convinced the Spanish Health Ministry to allow Spanish soccer matches to be played, while the British parliament never canceled English soccer leagues, nor did they limit crowds.

While the Spanish flu raged, WWI neared its end, but the Great War’s effect on sports was felt a few years earlier. WWI spanned from 1914 to 1918, with the majority of European sports absent for all four years of the war. American sports were largely left alone until the U.S. joined the war in 1917.

Immediately following the start of the war, first-class cricket and top-class rugby leagues were canceled, while the top divisions of English soccer followed suit in 1915. By 1916, the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon were all scratched due to the war.

The 1916 Olympic Games, which was to be hosted by Germany, were canceled for the first time in its history. A sprawling, 30,000 seat stadium was built in preparation for the Games, only to be replaced by a new structure for the 1936 Olympics.

American football was nearly scratched due to the war, but lobbyists convinced the U.S. War Department that the physical rigors of football were similar to military training. Baseball was able to continue throughout the war, but played a shortened season in 1918.

Two decades later, the sports world would be rocked again, this time by WWII.

Both the 1940 and 1944 Summer and Winter Olympics were dropped, the most recent Olympic cancellations until this year’s postponement. The 1940 Games were initially moved from Japan to Finland until Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland scrapped the Games altogether.

FIFA’s struggles were well documented during the war, highlighted by the cancellation of the 1942 World Cup. The English Football Federation halted play at the start of the war, but later reversed course and allowed for matches to be played.

In the U.S., the majority of Americans were in favor of continuing sporting events because it led to increased morale throughout the country. Despite many star players heading off to fight the Axis Powers, baseball continued on. College football was hit harder than baseball, as many colleges dropped their sports programs and athletes were sent off to war.

When the games that bring everyone together are suddenly called off, it leads to feelings of sadness and confusion. No one knows how long until fans will be able to see their favorite teams take the field again, or favorite players step onto the court, whether that be on TV or in person.

The sports world has gone through tumultuous times before, but just like in the past, sports will become the great unifier, and fans will surely cherish it more than ever before.