Sports addictions during the pandemic

While addressing the needs of drug addicts is an important concern during the pandemic (and I have discussed earlier coffee and alcohol, and other drugs), there are others whom we sometimes also label as ‘addicts’ because they are incredibly devoted to something, even though this may not be due to ingesting anything. One major category among these types of addictions is sports.

Rhiannon, from over at Intransitive who lives in Taiwan, knowing that I am a cricket fan, sent me a link to a Taiwanese media news item about efforts by cricket fans in India trying to get Taiwan to broadcast their games so that they can be watched in India, even though Taiwanese cricket would have been utterly scorned as a fourth-rate cricket power just a month or so earlier. This is because cricket is apparently still being played in that country and these fans, who are some of the most fanatical fans in the world, are suffering due to being deprived of watching live cricket matches. (I was surprised that Taiwan is allowing games during this time, even though the games are being played in empty stadiums with fans told to stay away.)

That is not all. Sports fans in the US are also looking to other forms of watching now that all the professional leagues have shut down. Those TV and internet channels that used to feature exclusively sports content are trying to find ways to retain their audiences. Streaming old games is not much of a solution since apparently that is expensive to do and also fans want to watch live games, not ones for which they already know the result.

So we now have weird innovations such as where top racing car drivers compete with each other on car racing video games or top basketball players have their online avatars compete with each other. There have even been complete computer baseball games between two teams of Major League Baseball where the ‘players’ from those teams performances are determined by AI algorithms. These contests come with excited sports commentary and many of the other rituals to give a flavor of the real thing.

On the program on April 10, On The Media host Bob Garfield discussed with producer Micah Loewinger and professor of media studies at Georgia Tech Ian Bogost about the various kinds of non-sports sports that have popped up to deal with sports addiction and fill sports TV time. and what this tells us about sports in the US. Garfield is incredulous, as am I, that these pseudo-sports are anything but novelty items whose appeal will wear off in a few minutes. But both of us seem to be underestimating the desperate need of sports addicts to satisfy their cravings and who will settle for any type of contest and these events seem to draw fairly good ratings.

Once again, it will be interesting to see the long-term impact of the shutdowns in this particular area of live ‘sports’. Once it is over, will we return to things just as they were before? Or will there be fundamental changes?

One possible change for the better may be the end of the charade of ‘amateur’ college football where students at the major football playing schools are recruited for their playing skills rather than academics and where they risk body and brain injury for no pay while the colleges benefit. If colleges continue in the online mode during the summer months when these football players are usually preparing for the fall season, there may not be a season at all. I for one will not be sorry. I have long argued that it is immoral for colleges to risk the health of their students in this way.


  1. says

    Formula 1 has been a different story. A few years ago, Liberty Media bought Formula 1 and used youtube to appeal to fans while the sport is in its most boring era, something Bernie Ecclestone would never have done.

    Since the season has been suspended (not yet cancelled), they have been rebroadcasting classic, memorable races from the past. The few they’ve shown have millions of views in just two weeks, races that old time fans (like me) have wanted to see for years.

    I’m hoping they show the 1979 French Grand Prix at Dijon. Anyone who knows racing knows why.

  2. billseymour says

    I do miss the Cardinals, but it’s kind of hard not to when you grow up in St. Louis. I’d probably also like cricket if I knew more about it, if for no other reason than for all the wonderful jargon. (Thank you, Mano, for all you’ve taught me so far.)

    I can also watch figure skating and Alpine skiing during the Winter Olympics; but aside from that, I’m not much of a sports fan and certainly wouldn’t be feeling withdrawl due to its absence.

  3. consciousness razor says

    Don’t care about sports, and wouldn’t say I have a chess addiction… But FIDE postponed the 2nd half of the candidates tournament which decides the challenger for the 2020 world championship: 14 rounds in a double round-robin, plus a day for tie-breaks at the end, if necessary. Only 7 finished so far. Not sure if it’s even happening in 2020 now.

    They postponed on March 26, the day before Russia was going to cut off air traffic, meaning players wouldn’t be able to return home after it was over. Of course, some had issues even getting there in first place.

    I wasn’t happy that FIDE just didn’t reschedule the whole thing. I am sort of an MVL fan, although honestly I’d rather see Caruana play for it again. Anyway, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave did well in the 1st half, but he only qualified because Radjabov withdrew due to the pandemic. Ding Liren also did much worse than expected … given the circumstances, that may not be a coincidence. Wang Hao did okay so far, but really nobody should’ve been put in that position.

    From the wiki above:

    The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic, which was mainly confined to China in January and early February 2020, affected the preparation of the Chinese players, Wang Hao and Ding Liren. On February 10, both players admitted that they cancelled their training camps and had to prepare online with their assistants: Ding Liren was training in his home city of Wenzhou; while Wang Hao was out of China, and planned to only briefly return to China before the Candidates.[17][18] Wang Hao later decided to not return to China at all before the tournament.[19]

    On February 19, Russia announced a partial ban on Chinese nationals entering the country due to the coronavirus outbreak in China.[20] FIDE announced that the Chinese delegation was travelling on humanitarian visas and therefore would be permitted to enter Russia, but they were advised to come “well in advance” before the tournament.[19]

    On March 2, Ding Liren and his team passed the Russian border control in Moscow and went to an isolated cottage house at the outskirts of Moscow, for two weeks of medical quarantine and observation before the start of the tournament.

  4. Holms says

    Garfield is incredulous, as am I, that these pseudo-sports are anything but novelty items whose appeal will wear off in a few minutes.

    It is possible that the two of you are a tad behind the times, as various computer games have had competitive leagues going back to the nineties at least, and they’ve been attracting big money since somewhere in the noughts.


    #2 Ridana
    Glad to see I’m not the only one to have been mesmerised! That channel made me wish I still had my old marble collection. I’d have selected my favourites to mail in to the guy, and my team would have been famous goddammit!

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