Sport has taken on even greater significance for many over the past couple of years as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to wreak havoc, at times serving as a distraction and an invaluable crutch that many have turned to when seeking respite from the daily toil.
The threat of COVID still lingers of course but here are some of the key sporting occasions we can look forward to in 2022.
Australia may have already retained the Ashes after their crucial win in Melbourne but the remaining two Tests in January will see a wounded England playing for pride. The fourth test started today (Jan 1) in Sydney and the final test is due to take place in Hobart from Jan 14-18.
Elsewhere in January, the Australian Open launches the international tennis calendar on Jan 17. It remains to be seen whether men’s defending champion Novak Djokovic will be on court as the nine-time winner has declined to publicly state his vaccine status, deemed a prerequisite by authorities, leading to assumptions that he will not be there. However, Noami Osaka will be there to defend her women’s singles title. Other tournaments of note throughout the year include the French Open at Roland Garros in May and June, Wimbledon in June and July and the US Open in August and September.
Formula One attracted a wealth of new fans in the 2021 season as the drivers championship went down to the wire with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen pipping rival Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes to the title on the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December. A bumper 23-race calendar starts in Bahrain on March 23 and fans will be delighted if the 2022 season proves anywhere near as exciting as 2021.
Two of the biggest global sports events taking place in 2022 are both, unfortunately, clouded in major controversy which have seen the divides between sport and politics blurred considerably.
Firstly, Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics, running from Feb 4-20, and the Paralympics in March. China has consistently been courting controversy over a range of issues including COVID-19, human rights and territorial disputes, which has soured international relations and affected sentiment towards the Games. The USA, Australia, UK and Japan have all effected diplomatic boycotts although athletes from the respective countries will still participate.
Fans will be barred from attending the Games due to COVID-19 concerns and, bizarrely for a winter-themed event, snow is having to be transported to the venues at great cost and with detrimental environmental consequences.
The FIFA World Cup, to be held in Qatar between Nov 21 to Dec 18, has been dogged with controversy since the tournament was awarded to the tiny Gulf state, a desert nation with baking summer temperatures, no world-class stadiums, little interest in football but lots of money.
Allegations of bribery between the Qatar bid committee and FIFA executives have rumbled on and major questions have been raised about human rights, particularly regarding the two million migrant workers who have been tasked with building venues in extremely testing conditions.
Likewise Qatar’s stance on equality and homosexuality, the latter deemed an illegal act, has raised major concerns, odd as FIFA continually promotes the game as accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, religion, etc.
Critics argue the World Cup is being used as just another cog in the Middle East’s sport washing wheel, the practice of an individual, group, corporation, or nation-state using a major or prestigious international sport to improve its reputation. Expect major fallout as the tournament nears and takes place.
In the rugby world we have the Six Nations Rugby tournament and the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, postponed due to COVID-19, in England from Oct 15 to Nov 19.
Those of an American Football persuasion will be keeping a keen eye on Super Bowl LVI on Feb 13 in Inglewood, California.
New Zealand hosts Women’s Rugby Union World Cup, postponed from 2021, in October and November and the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup in March and April.
Domestically down Under there is the AFL Grand Final Sept 24, the NRL Grand Final on Oct 2 and the Melbourne Cup on Nov 1.
Golf fanatics will be focused on the Masters at Augusta in April, the PGA Championship in May, the US Open in June and the Open at St Andrews in Scotland in July.
For running enthusiasts, there is the Tokyo Marathon in March and the Boston and London marathons in April. A date for the New York marathon has yet to be announced.
Hopping on the bike, we have the Giro dItalia in May, the Vuelta a España in August and September and the Tour de France in July.
In athletics there is the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA in July and the 22nd edition of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK between July 28-Aug 8.
Finally, Thailand will host Badminton’s Thomas & Uber Cup finals between May 8-15 with mixed doubles world champions Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai looking to shine on home soil.
Whatever your preference, these are just a few of the highlights in the sporting world that should keep fans enthralled throughout 2022 - COVID permitting of course!