What will make sporting headlines in 2016?6 min read . Updated: 07 Jan 2016, 01:53 AM IST
Some breaking news sports headlines of 2016 before they actually break
Some breaking news sports headlines of 2016 before they actually break
In one of Bill Watterson’s thousands of genius comic strips, Calvin, duly hatted, and Hobbes, wearing his dandy scarf, trudge through the snow. Calvin says he is “getting disillusioned with these new years". They don’t, he says, “seem very new at all. Each new year is like the old year". He is soon furious: “Here another year has gone by and everything’s still the same!... what kind of a future is this? I thought things were supposed to improve! I thought the future was supposed to be better." Hobbes, ever-wise, replies, “The problem with the future is that it keeps turning into the present."
Sport, we’re often told, is the opposite. At its heart lies unpredictability, a striving for excellence and athletic perfection. Sport is all about making the Hobbesian future better than the past. The proof lies in sport’s records and its numbers; in faster, stronger and fitter athletes, increased participation and viewing audience and, indeed, more of everything.
Yet as 2016 reels out around us, like the rest of the humdrum and mundane world, sport too will throw up some of the same-old same-old that had Calvin fretting.
Here then, all in one place at one time, some breaking news sports headlines of 2016 before they actually break.
Rio struggles to be ready for the Olympics
This is a familiar story. A few years after a host city for the Olympics or indeed any other global-level mega-game is announced, the city is deemed unfit or, at the very least, unprepared, to stage the games. The hurdles: infrastructure, transport, health, safety. It begins with a buzz around 12 months before the games and with “100 days to go…", reaches panic, red-alert, emergency pitch. It happened in Athens 2004 around venue preparation and the post 9/11 security scenario. Beijing 2008 was ready a year before the opening ceremony, so the issue was about air quality.
The themes will find their way to Rio too, where the biggest stories will centre around venue-readiness plus a new headline generator—water pollution. In fact, International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates upped the ante as early as April 2014, saying Rio’s preparation was “the worst I’ve experienced", worse than even Athens, he said. Expect plenty of alarm bells until a dazzling opening ceremony, at which point Christ the Redeemer will ensure that all is forgotten. Hallelujah.
Pool Shark Phelps splashes down again
Everyone remembers Michael Phelps’ eight golds in Beijing. But how many golds in Athens? Six. A very large number. London? Four. That’s a total of 18, twice the number for any swimmer in Olympic history. Smaller medals included, that’s a total of 22, the most medals won by any Olympian. This is the most successful Olympian, no, sorry, non-amphibian, on the planet and 2016 is the reason he’s returned from retirement. Phelps will dive into our consciousness from the US Olympic trials all the way to, inshallah, Rio.
The man’s virtually grown up in the water and it’s always helped him resurface. After every Olympics, Phelps ran into trouble, and was suspended twice from swimming: Drunken driving is an issue and, once, he was photographed smoking a cannabis pipe. In December, aged 30, he won three titles at the US National Championship, clocking times that would have won him 2015 World Championship golds had he not been suspended. When sport’s big names make comebacks, they are usually painful. When it’s the Pool Shark, though, get ready to be surprised.
Doubles jeopardy for Indian tennis’ Olympic hopes
Remember London 2012 and Indian tennis’ internecine doubles team quarrel? A saga featuring the Leander Paes versus Mahesh Bhupathi saas-bahu drama and including in its stifling embrace Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna and a slightly befuddled Vishnu Vardhan. At the end of much raging fire and asphyxiating brimstone, no medals for anyone. Three doubles teams, two second-round defeats in the men’s doubles and first-round in the mixed doubles. That headline has begun to stir again: Paes has said India’s best chance of a medal at what he hopes will be his record seventh Olympics centres around him partnering both Bopanna and Mirza.
He had asked, he says, Bopanna to partner him in the run-up to the Games, but Bopanna had “turned him down" as he did not want to disrupt his successful alliance with Romanian Florin Mergea.
Bopanna has said, “It’s a long way to go (for the Olympics) and there is nothing to say right now." In terms of who partners Mirza, Bopanna is ranked world No.9 in men’s doubles to Paes’ No.41. Mirza recalled her Hopman Cup partnerships with Bopanna, saying they had “not lost for eight-nine years". Trouble’s coming, as is that headline. And the medal? It’s sport. Dream on.
Blatter-Platini battle on
It is the world’s biggest sport and at the moment, they are the sport’s biggest story. Other than high-profile coaches being sacked every two days. For entertainment’s sake, you can even call them Blatini or Platter, but they are not going anywhere all of 2016. Sepp Blatter, the now former Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa) president and his once informally-anointed successor have been turfed out of Fifa for eight years by its ethics committee, following the dramatic arrests in May.
The irony is not lost on anyone. Michel Platini headed Uefa, the European soccer confederation which, following the arrests, had let rumours rumble on all so frequently about how the Europeans really needed to break away from Fifa to force Blatter to ensure that “other-worlders" could mend their ways. Uefa’s own boss was caught with his hands in the till. The former secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, also French, could get a nine-year ban. Everyone, it appears, is involved. Blatini will launch appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. There will be legal fun to follow. Promise.
Engine trouble stalks F1
In a recent article about the Star Wars franchise, TheEconomist newspaper listed the three elements of modern myth-making as tropes, technology and toys. Formula One (F1) has them all. Its tropes are big money and the tussle for power. Its myth-making rests on its ability to generate high-speed action and high-tension controversy over a season. Even in the dominant Mercedes team, which won 16 out of 19 races in 2015, finished 1-2 in 12, and was invisible on the podium in only two.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is contemplating, he says, having his drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, not the best of pals, go at each other on the track. To equip them with “their own (separate) strategy cars" in order to perhaps “help the show."
The unseen show will be inside the boardroom: Mercedes versus the F1 bosses over the price of engines to the customer teams. The F1 bosses wanted a cheaper engine and Mercedes, whose successful but expensive hybrid engine has driven its success over the last two seasons, blocked it, along with their richer competitor-buddies Ferrari. New alternative engines have been called for. The drama will continue. We may need degrees in automobile engineering to follow it. Which is why Herr Wolff is offering us Hamilton versus Rosberg for now.
So, have a happy and sporting 2016, everyone, but don’t say you weren’t warned.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at Espncricinfo.