Year in Review 2020: Robots cheering teams in empty stadiums to PV Sindhu's shock 'retirement', 10 bizarre sports stories

There were lesser matches and tournaments in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the bizarre content was still very high. In fact, a few incidents were so strange they could have been a result of the pandemic. Here's a look at some of the strangest sporting moments from 2020.

FP Sports December 26, 2020 14:00:12 IST
Year in Review 2020: Robots cheering teams in empty stadiums to PV Sindhu's shock 'retirement', 10 bizarre sports stories

SoftBank Corp's humanoid robots Pepper (white) and Boston Dynamics' robots SPOT (yellow) dance and sing before the Nippon Professional Baseball league match between SoftBank Hawks and Rakuten Golden Eagles in Fukuoka on July 10, 2020. AFP

Just like great sporting performances, unbelievable upsets, and memorable moments, every calendar year also brings with itself plenty of plain bizarre incidents. But this year, 2020, was probably the most bizarre of any calendar year, hence outlandish moments from this year also have to be a little more whacky or weird than the previous years.

Let's look at some of the strangest sporting moments from 2020.

Rudy Gobert touches mics in jest, then tests COVID-19 positive

In a press conference held early in March this year, Utah Jazz start Rudy Gobert was asked about the league and the team’s COVID-19 protocols. After it ended, the Frenchman got up and touched every microphone and recording devices placed in front of him in jest. 48 hours later, Gobert became the first NBA player to test positive for the coronavirus on 11 March. The NBA subsequently suspended its season indefinitely. Soon, Jazz’s other superstar, Donovan Mitchell, was also reported to have tested positive for COVID-19.

Mushfiqur Rahim loses cool, almost hits teammate in Bangabandhu T20 Cup

Professional sportspersons are passionate people but it's vital for them to always keep their emotions in check. But sometimes emotions, feelings get better of some of the players and we end up with them showing the ugly side of their nature. Something similar happened in the Bangabandhu T20 Cup during a match between Beximco Dhaka and Fortune Barishal.

Mushfiqur Rahim-led Dhaka won the match by nine wickets but it was the captain who made the headlines and for all the wrong reasons. Rahim during the match was seen almost hitting his teammate Nasum Ahmed for interfering during a catch. The catch came as a result of a lofted shot from Afif Hossain. Both Rahim and Nasum charged for the ball with the former taking it before colliding with his partner.

The collision could have cost the team a wicket but still, nothing justifies aggressive action against a teammate, especially from someone as experienced as Rahim.

With fans barred from games, Japanese baseball team gets robots in the stands to cheer team

With coronavirus restrictions preventing fans from entering stadiums, many teams and even leagues started putting up cut-outs of fans in the stands to recreate some semblance of normalcy. Other leagues like NBA put up electronic boards with fans watching the action live from the comfort of their homes.

One Japanese baseball team, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, however, came up with an imaginative, if possibly creepy solution: they placed more than 20 robots in the stands to cheer players during their Nippon Professional Baseball games. Some of these robots were humanoids, while others were four-legged fans.

St Louis Cardinals players travelled in 41 rental cars from St Louis to Chicago

With social distancing becoming the buzz word since the coronavirus forced us to reimagine and rethink everything, teams have also been forced to implement checks and balances to make sure their players were insulated from the coronavirus in all situations, be it while playing, or travelling to venues. The St Louis Cardinals were one of the most severely hit teams in North American sports leagues, with 18 players and staff members contracting coronavirus.

So when their Major League Baseball season restarted after the outbreak, a decision had to be made to ensure the team gets safely to Boston from St Louis (which was the first game in a gruelling schedule, which had them playing 53 games in 44 days). Their solution? Renting 41 cars to ferry players from one city to another in a caravan. You certainly cannot accuse them of not being driven!

PV Sindhu 'retires', but not from badminton 

In arguably the most bizarre incident in Indian sport this year, ace shuttler PV Sindhu sent her fans to a frenzy on social media, when she announced on Twitter that she was ‘retiring’. She announced this on 2 November, and little did her fans know that she was not retiring from badminton, but the thought of negativity amidst the battle against coronavirus.

“I retire from this negativity, the constant fear, uncertainty. I choose to retire from a complete lack of control over the unknown,” she had said on the micro-blogging site. “Most importantly, I choose to retire from substandard hygiene standards and our lackadaisical attitude towards the virus," the 25-year-old from Hyderabad later added.

Later, according to India Today, Sindhu admitted that she might have given everyone a 'mini heart-attack', but once again reiterated that she was just retiring from the negativity surrounding COVID-19.

Juventus turn up to play Napoli when Napoli had not even flown out of Naples!

The usual norm in sporting contests is that both teams have to assemble at a venue and battle it out for victory. If one fails to turn up without any legitimate reasons, their opponents are declared winners. On 4 October 2020, Serie A side Napoli didn't travel to Turin to play against rivals Juventus. The match was abandoned, Juventus were declared 3-0 winners because their players reached the stadium on match day and a point was deducted from Napoli's tally.

But the usual norm goes for a toss when the world is going through a pandemic. And the reason for Napoli not travelling to play the match was as legitimate as it comes. Napoli were ordered not to travel because two members of their team - Eljif Elmas and Piotr Zielinski - tested positive for COVID-19. The local health authorities in Naples ordered the team to stay put and the players to isolate.

The twist here is that Serie A applied UEFA's rule which state that a match can go ahead as long as the team has 13 fit players including a goalkeeper. Napoli requested for a postponement but the league refused. If a club has a COVID-19 outbreak with 10 plus cases in a week then the league can grant the postponement request.

Yes, rules are rules but this is not a normal time and Serie A should've been a little more understanding and flexible. In fact, the league should make the process easy for clubs, especially now because these are tough times.

Thankfully, justice prevailed after the bizarre drama. Napoli won their appeal after taking the case to the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), the highest level of sporting justice in Italy. The restoration of a point moves Napoli up to third in the standings ahead of Juventus, who have lost three points, and are fourth. Italian media reported that the match will be rescheduled for 13 January.

Adria Tour - an exhibition of recklessness and absurdity

“It’s a huge effort, a huge success, and I think it’s a positive image for the sport in general, for tennis.” – Novak Djokovic told Eurosport a week after the exhibition event Adria Tour got underway. In that week, there was plenty of criticism for Djokovic, the tournament organiser, and players for flouting rules as the pandemic raged.

A couple of weeks later, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric, Viktor Troicki, Goran Ivanisevic, Novak, and his wife Jelena all tested COVID-19 positive. The large scale sickbay came as no surprise with social media posts and photos showing players hugging, shaking hands, playing basketball, and dancing together. If that wasn't bizarre enough, a kid's day event was organised at the start of the exhibition.

Just when one thought Novak's dangerous actions were over, he travelled from Croatia to native Serbia to get tested when it had become clear he had come in contact with COVID-19 players. As Nick Kyrgios, the voice of reason (for a change), tweeted, "Boneheaded decision to go ahead with the ‘exhibition’. Speedy recovery fellas, but that’s what happens when you disregard all protocols. This IS NOT A JOKE."

Rohit Sharma's injury fiasco

India captain Virat Kohli was as uninformed as others when it came to Rohit Sharma's injury update, before the start of the ODIs in Australia. While BCCI is known for the lack of communication to the press, many stories are a product of leaks than press releases, but to know that even the captain was clueless about his vice-captain's availability before an important tour like Australia, was surely bizarre.

Rohit had done his hamstring during IPL but after a period of rest, played in the final. Kohli had said that in the mail received by him before the selection meeting said Rohit was out for two weeks and was unavailable for selection but when he played in the final of IPL, it was expected that he would join the squad flying to Australia.

"And we had no information as to why he was not travelling with us", Kohli said. The blanket on Rohit's injury is nothing new from BCCI. However, Kohli's statements reveal a big hole in communication within BCCI.

Cricket umpires not allowed to receive caps from players

To resume international cricket, ICC chalked out various SOPs. There were some much-needed changes made to make cricket happen again at the international and domestic level. While other rules, like not using saliva on ball, playing in bio bubbles etc, made great sense, there was one interesting rule change: umpires not allowed to take caps and shirts from players.

Year in Review 2020 Robots cheering teams in empty stadiums to PV Sindhus shock retirement 10 bizarre sports stories

David Warner could be seen wearing two caps due to COVID-19 restrictions which directed umpires not to hold the bowler's cap. Image: Sportzpics for BCCI

The one reason one may see for the rule to have come into place could be to avoid contact as much as possible. However, the umpires still kept the balls between the overs, during breaks, stood very close to the players at times.

As a result, one would see one of the players wearing two pullovers, two caps and two sunglasses, during an over.

Not to forget, umpires would still be staying in the same bubble as players, following all the protocols. This was one way of cricket saying that it remains a funny game even during a pandemic.

Social distancing leads to 37-0 defeat for SG Ripdorf/Molzen II

SG Ripdorf/Molzen II, a German football club which plays in the 3. Kreisklasse, one of the lowest leagues in the German football structure, suffered a 37-0 defeat against their city rivals SV Holdenstedt II in September after it managed to put only seven players on the pitch for the game. A minimum of seven players are required for a football match and Ripdorf managed just that many after the majority of their players refused to take the field due to the fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus from the opposition players.

The basis for their fear was the fact that a Holdenstedt II player had been in contact with an opponent infected with the COVID-19 virus during a previous match. The squad though tested negative for its next match but Ripdorf players were not willing to take the risk. In the end, the club fielded just seven players to maintain social distancing on the pitch and suffered a 37-0 defeat.

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