Recent Comments

    Looking Back at How the Pandemic Affected Sports in 2021

    By John Chen–

    2021 was supposed to be the year where everything returned to normal. COVID-19 was supposed to be under control as vaccines became readily available. At this time last year, January 2021, outdoor sports and activities were in full swing with indoor sports soon to follow. Professional and college sports returned to competition, although with limited or no fans in attendance. There was plenty of room for optimism that 2021 would be the end of the pandemic.

    But 2021 was strained with several COVID ebbs and flows, ups and downs that stunted any continuity to recovery and normalcy. At the beginning of the year, we celebrated the opening of indoor sports and activities only to be shut down due to major spikes in Delta cases. We rejoiced at being able to workout at our local gyms, but that lasted only briefly. COVID fatigue took its toll on everyone. Even the staunchest of introverts had had enough. At least I had plenty of toilet paper rolls stocked up.

    By late spring, as more and more people became fully vaccinated, COVID cases declined and the deadly Delta variant was under control. Predominantly indoor activities and sports such as gym, basketball, bowling, and volleyball returned with strict safety protocols. More good news followed as fans were allowed to attend both indoor and outdoor professional and college sporting events. Things were starting to look promising.

    Our local LGBT sports including football, volleyball, softball, tennis, soccer, rugby, and basketball all returned to competition welcoming players, fans, and supporters back with open arms—or, during the pandemic, fist bumps. For examples, Balls of Furry Volleyball hosted three tournaments, and both San Francisco Gay Flag Football and Gay Softball leagues completed a full season.

    Athletes and weekend hacks alike had to be fully vaccinated and adhered to wearing masks, social distancing, and sanitizing over the course of play and competition. It was the new norm in order to participate. For most sports people, the price of admission and safety is worth the inconvenience.

    By the end of summer 2021, there was great optimism that the pandemic might just be over soon. Large outdoor events, concerts, and street fairs in San Francisco including Folsom and Castro, although scaled down somewhat, took place to the delight of attendees.

    On a personal note, I attended a UCLA football game at the Rose Bowl as well as a few collegiate volleyball and soccer matches at Stanford and Cal. I also supported friends at Bay Area volleyball and tennis tournaments as well as various other LGBT sports leagues. It was good to be a live fan again!

    Then on November 24, 2021, on my birthdate no less, a new COVID variant Omicron was reported to the World Health Organization. Apparently, this variant is extremely transmittable, but the severity of this contagion was still under research. But there was no need to panic. At least, not yet.

    By mid to late December 2021, the heart of college football Bowl season arrived, and my beloved UCLA Bruins earned a bid to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Four hours before the game, we arrived at the tailgate parking lot of Petco Park excited, decked out in gear, and ready to rumble. “The game is canceled due to COVID protocols in the UCLA program,” someone from the other side of the parking lot shouted. Omicron struck fast and hard as numerous college and professional sports games were canceled or postponed due to the rapid spread of Omicron.

    So, here we are, January 2022. The pandemic is still going strong thanks to the uber contagious, but more manageable Omicron variant that has replaced the deadly Delta variant. The New Year brought new fears and frustration. The Australian Open, tennis’ first grand slam tournament of the year, was already mired in COVID controversy that garnered international notoriety even before the first serve. Many California collegiate sports giants including Stanford, UCLA, and USC have temporarily banned fans from attending games. Scores of people returning from holiday trips tested positive for Omicron.

    Houston, we have a problem.

    Will 2022 finally put an end to the pandemic? The good news is that Omicron, now the dominant COVID strain, has shown to be far less effective in causing major damage and may play itself out much sooner than later. Maybe 2022 is the year we finally return to normal—when we can play and attend sports games and matches both indoor and out without restriction. Let’s hope.

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball, and football teams.

    Published on January 27, 2022