After reading an interesting article in this week’s Observer Sport magazine predicting what sport will be like in 2020. As well as agreeing with a lot of their predictions, I disagreed with a lot too, as the article shows. I also decided to make a few predictions of my own. Maybe in a decade’s time we can look back at these predictions with appropriate pride at our foresight or shame/laughter at how misguided we were…
The 10 things they think will have happened and my thoughts (for what they’re worth!):
1.‘All sport will revolve around the T.V viewer’
Probably largely right as the this is certainly the way the sport is going at the moment. One needs to look no further than the meteoric rise of Sky Sports, especially since the inception of the Premiership, and the strangehold they now have on sport in the UK. Therefore, it is perfectly feasible that sport will become more ‘entertainment’ as the Americans cover sport, which will no doubt bring many benefits, but will in my opinion be of detriment to sport in general.
2. ‘China will take gold at rugby’
I do not think this will happen because, for a country with a very poor team (by international standards) at time of writing to quickly go to world beaters in a sport, is a massive undertaking. In any sport, having the infrastructure in terms of coaching, funding, stadia and world-class domestic leagues etc. is of vital importance to inspiring and bringing through the next generation of budding sports men or women. This is especially true of a sport such as Rugby where tactics and coaching are so fundamental. Furthermore, of course this is a huge crass generalisation, but typically Chinese people are not the biggest, which could hamper the development of Rugby in the country, especially in today’s game where the pack is so important
3. ‘Twitter replaces the press conference’.
Can’t see this happening. The press conference is too much of a staple of sporting tradition. People will still have papers to sell/shows to fill/websites to blog on (for one, what would happen to Sky Sports News?!). Also, the press conference captures emotion and body language (or a notable lack of it), such as a cheeky grin or hint of anger, that inherently cannot be captured to the same extent with an Iphone and Twitter .nYes, these may come to complement the backstage of sport more than they currently do, but if the press conference was abolished all together, viewers would miss the drama of Haye/Harrison verbal sparring, Ferguson/Benitez mind-games, Ian Holloway rants, Kevin Keegan breakdowns (technically an interview, yes), the genius of people like Brian Clough and the list goes on…
4. ‘Football’s old guard will resist technology’.
I can see this happening. It has happened so far despite being used to, what the vast majority would say is a success, in cricket, tennis, rugby and others. The article perceived this resistance as ill-judged and ‘Luddite’ but, call me a stupid, stubborn, traditionalist if you will, I think it is a positive move (or, rather, ‘non-move’). Although it can be very harsh on the victim/s of terrible decisions, football’s human nature is what gets people talking in the pubs, sells papers and gives football a lot of interest…’romance’ if you will. Would anyone remember the ‘Russian Linesman, the “hand of God” or Henry’s basketballing antics if the officials had made the correct decision? I, for one, doubt it. But because, for better or worse, they made the incorrect decision, they’ve gone down in football history.
5. ‘Snooker will die; F1 and skiing on life support’
Snooker’s current format will seriously wane I think, but I think a new format may revitalise it (more later). I think F1 will being doing o.k. The appetite is there, there is always new superstars (often with playboy charisma attractive to the viewer) behind the corner, almost literally, and there always seems to be playboy millionaires and advertising giants to fund this luxury sport. Having said that, its success will be related to how well and quickly the world comes out of this recession. I think The Observer are spot on in their prediction of skiing as interest already seems to be in the descendant.
6. ‘NFL takes up a London residency’
Some small American football teams are struggling to fill their stadiums and there is a fairly big appetite for American football in the UK. So, I can see a small club coming to London, because American fans, for better or for worse, don’t have an obsession with loyalty to one’s hometown team and aversion to big money/globalisation as many in the UK do (see the furore over the proposed, but ill-fated 39th premier league game).
7. ‘Sportsmen and women will run their own teams’
I do not think this is a realistic prediction because top players (the ones who would do this) are earning a lot of money for their clubs and nearly all feel some sort of affinity to the club they play for, because, let’s be honest, if they don’t feel this affinity they largely have the ‘player power’ to manufacture a move to a club where they will/do have this. Also, although players earn astronomical amounts, a quick look at any football rich list will reveal how this pales in comparison to the owners of the clubs. The money necessary to adequately fund a football team/league is extraordinary and it would take an world-shatteringly big move by a number of players to make this prediction reality. I feel it is too improbable.
8. ‘Swimming goes slow’
This is eminently possible as Phelps cannot keep on being superhuman and beating his own ridiculous records. I think the same applies to sprinting and its lightning-quick mascot, Usain Bolt.
1. More ‘rebel’ leagues
In a similar vein to Twenty20 cricket, I think millionaire promoters will come in and shake up a few ‘tired formats’ of sport. Specifically, maybe snooker and rugby. As the ‘observer’ predicts, snooker seems to be on the way out, but I don’t think it is terminal. It is perfectly within the realms of possibility that a rich promoter shakes things up with quicker, shorter matches (fewer frames and a time limit for shots), more exhibition snooker (fast games, huge breaks, trick shot competitions etc) and encouragement for more atmosphere. Indeed, this trend has started with the introduction of ‘Powerball’ snooker, which was generally regarded as a success, albeit a novelty one.
Rugby today seems to be increasingly a tactical kicking game, especially with new rucking and mauling rules which cut runners little to no slack. Also, the international game is in good health but there is far less interest in the domestic leagues (compare the Zurich premiership to ‘the’ premiership). Given this, I can envisaged a wealthy promoter creating a rebel league roughly equivalent to rebel Twenty20 leagues with the best domestic teams/players from all over the world and with emphasis on quick attacking running play. To encourage the latter, perhaps an extra point for a try and/or one fewer point for a penalty or drop goal.
2. Salary caps in football
…At something like £100-150k a week because it’s getting slightly ridiculous now, especially with chairmen such as certain unnamed Arab oil tycoons who make a certain unnamed Russian one, look like a mere peasant. It would, however, have to be a universal decision by UEFA and/or FIFA because if one particular F.A. imposed it, all the world-class players would just go to the other top footballing nations. Also I envision quotas for home-grown players coming in a bit more (bad news for me as a Gunner!).
3. Brand teams
While I don’t think players have the power to create their own teams, I can see brands creating teams for one off tournaments. As ridiculous as it sounds, the ‘98 World Cup final was dubbed the ‘Nike vs Adidas final’ (Brazil and France, respectively). As players are only very grudgingly released for international friendlies nowadays, I don’t imagine clubs will be very happy about this situation though, so there would probably ve considerable resistance to this scenario should it emerge.
4. The land of the rising sport
While I don’t think China will become world beaters at rugby, I think they will become a lot better at other mainstream sports such as tennis and football because, to generalise, they’ve got the money (in the right places in a sporting respect, at least), the political motivation, the infrastructure and, by God, they’ve got determination and work ethic! Also, to an extent other East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea will progress.
5. The return of the single-handed backhand
Maybe a bit of a personal one this because I have a single-handed backhand, but I think there will be a bit of a reaction against the double- handed backhand which so dominates tennis today. Now I realise that the pros hit the ball A LOT harder than myself and therefore might need the little bit of extra power the double-handed backhand affords, but I’m just (wishfully) thinking that more players might come through with a single because, when mastered, it can be just as good, gives the player more options and reach but, most importantly, is just a thing of beauty for the viewer when played right! Compare, Federer’s elegant, fleet-flooted, single-backhand to Nadal’s, equally effective..don’t get me wrong, big-fat-stomp-then-wollop-and-grunt double-handed backhand.