Archive for the ‘horse racing’ Category

“Rain stops play” but should we let it?

The weather forecast for the start of the Wimbledon Championships on Monday 20 June is unsettled. Rain delays seem inevitable, much to the disappointment of spectators and TV viewers. Surely in this day and age something can be done?

Several of the outdoor sports have to suspend play when it rains, including cricket, baseball and tennis on some surfaces. Golf, football, rugby, Formula 1, road cycling, sailing and others are also disrupted by very bad weather.

Although there have been rain delays at sports events in the UK in recent days, such as the cricket Test Match between England and Sri Lanka and horse racing at Royal Ascot, overall significant progress has been made in the last few years.

The Centre Court at Wimbledon has had a retractable roof since 2009 which allows play to continue at least in one court in the event of rain or darkness. Drainage and covers at the leading cricket grounds are now so good that play can resume rapidly even after heavy rain that would have wiped out the rest of the day in years gone by. Meanwhile, horse racing has some all-weather artificial courses, field hockey is played on artificial turf and a handful of venues around the world can house football, rugby or American Football in a wholly enclosed space.

For sponsors and broadcasters, the threat of disruption due to bad weather is an occupational hazard which contrasts with the virtual certainty of indoor sport. You would think that it would be in their interests to focus more on events that are unlikely to be delayed or cancelled. However, sport’s original settings are more often outdoor than indoor and only basketball and ice hockey among leading spectator sports are always held indoors.

So what does the future hold? Research into artificial turf surfaces will no doubt continue with the eventual result that all sports played on grass will have an artificial option which is as good as grass. A few more venues like the Louisiana Superdome will be built to house team sports indoors, although the high cost will prevent more widespread adoption.

I think rain delays will continue to feature in sport because the institutions and fans enjoy belonging to a tradition. Part of the enjoyment of Wimbledon or attending a cricket match on a fine day stems from appreciating the sunshine in the knowledge that winter will arrive one day.

In any case the supporters of summer sports have it easy. Winter sport is the most vulnerable of all to the vagaries of the weather, as any ski fans will testify.

Match postponed: frozen pitch

Much of Europe has experienced freezing temperatures since late December, leading to the postponement of dozens of football and rugby matches and many other sports events (even as far south as Madrid). It’s inconvenient and disappointing for television and radio fans but even more so for ticket holders, who may not find out about the postponement until they reach the venue.

To avoid the worst of the weather, several countries in northern Europe have a short winter break and extend the competitive seasons slightly at either end. Sport in Britain, in contrast, has always taken advantage of the fact that much of the population is off work from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day, scheduling a large range of fixtures right across the country. It can pay dividends. Harlequins rugby union club attracted a record crowd of 50,000 to Twickenham for their Guinness Premiership encounter with Leicester on 27 December and 21,000 spectators saw the popular horse Kauto Star win the big race at Kempton Park at the traditional Boxing Day races. 

These loyal fans braved cold weather and often difficult travelling conditions to follow their sport but the key factor is television demand. It would be unthinkable for the stations who have paid vast sums for the rights not to have live competitions to show when millions of people are at home and available to watch. In fact, the worse the weather, the higher the viewing figures are likely to be. Ultimately the loyal club fan with a season ticket is the one who suffers: either shiver in the stand or skip the match.  

The Scottish Premier League last had a winter break in 2002/3, despite the fact that postponements are a regular occurrence from December to February. As the BBC explains, the timetable of matches to be played before the finishing date prescribed by FIFA makes it very difficult to fit in a break next season.
For the same reason the Bundesliga in Germany is shortening its six week winter break to three weeks in 2009/10.

Naturally, postponements give rise to conspiracy theories, particularly at the lower levels: when the home club has lots of injuries there may be only three people half-heartedly sweeping snow off the pitch; sure enough, when they are in good form and looking for a win, dozens of volunteers appear and the pitch is miraculously cleared.

In contrast to Scandinavia and the more mountainous countries, there isn’t enough snow in Britain to rule out grass sport in the coldest weeks of the year. For the stoical British sports fan and amateur participant, enduring a few bitter, wintry days remains an essential demonstration of commitment to the cause. For the uninitiated, it’s madness. Don’t expect to see a winter break in the British sporting calendar any time soon.