Football is nothing without fans and UFC won’t stop – things we learned from the sporting weekend

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Dustin Johnson (left) and Rory McIlroy (right) took part in golf


While millions of football fans rejoiced at the return of the Bundesliga on Saturday, football wasn’t the only sport making a comeback.

Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler were among those involved in a charity golf event in Florida on Sunday, while another UFC Fight Night took place in the same US state.

America also saw the return of NASCAR after a 10-week absence, while horse racing continued behind closed doors in France and Hong Kong. 

Sport may finally be starting to return following the coronavirus shutdown, but new rules, strict safety precautions and the absence of fans mean it’s very different to what we’re used to.

Here, Sportsmail takes a closer look at what we learned from the sporting weekend.  

Dustin Johnson (left) and Rory McIlroy (right) took part in golf’s return in Florida on Sunday

FOOTBALL IS NOTHING WITHOUT FANS

As soon as it was confirmed that the Bundesliga would return without fans, it was obvious that games would played in a strange atmosphere.

However, it took until BT Sport’s coverage of Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke began to appreciate just how important the role of supporters really is.

Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park is normally packed with more than 80,000 people, with the famous Yellow Wall driving on Erling Haaland and Co.

And while the absence of fans didn’t appear to affect the hosts’ performance as they ran out comfortable 4-0 winners over their rivals, the empty stadium was plain eerie. 

Football is about much more than the game on the pitch. It’s about the passion, the noise, the reactions of players and fans. All of that was lost over the weekend.

Erling Haaland (left) celebrates in an empty Signal Iduna Park after scoring against Schalke

Erling Haaland (left) celebrates in an empty Signal Iduna Park after scoring against Schalke

It must be said that the quality of football on show – at least from Dortmund – didn’t seem to be diluted by the enforced coronavirus break, but that is just one element of the game.

Clubs in Germany – and around the world – need supporters back watching matches from a financial viewpoint, but for the reputation and appeal of the sport it’s just as important.

Haaland’s opening goal on Saturday should have been greeted by a deafening roar and scenes of jubilation in the stands. Instead, we got silence and an odd, socially distanced celebration.

These are necessary evils if we want the Bundesliga and Europe’s other top leagues to complete the season, but it’s clear that everything needs to be done to get fans back into stadiums as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Football just isn’t football without them. 

Clubs could be forced to play behind closed doors for a number of months due to coronavirus

Clubs could be forced to play behind closed doors for a number of months due to coronavirus

GOLF FANS ARE GIVEN A TREAT

With the PGA and European Tours, plus the four majors and the Ryder Cup, to keep them entertained, golf fans wouldn’t normally care too much about a four-man charity event on a Sunday.

That was not the case over the weekend, however, as viewers tuned in for their first taste of live golf in 65 days with TaylorMade Driving Relief, a £3.3million Skins event involving Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matt Wolff.

The golf calendar has been decimated by the coronavirus crisis, with a number of events – including The Open – cancelled and The Masters pushed back until later in the year. Uncertainty still surrounds September’s Ryder Cup, too.

McIlroy plays out of a bunker during Sunday's TaylorMade Driving Relief event in Florida

McIlroy plays out of a bunker during Sunday’s TaylorMade Driving Relief event in Florida

Sunday’s event gave golf-starved viewers a chance to forget all of the problems and watch four of the world’s best players go at it in a relaxed environment, while raising money for charity at the same time.

Social media was abuzz with anticipation before the event began and it didn’t slow down throughout the holes, with fans thrilled simply to see McIlroy and Co swing a club again.

All four players carried their own bags for a change and there were no fans allowed on the course in Florida, but being able to hear the players speak – and rib each other – added a different dimension to Sky Sports’ coverage.

Johnson struggled with his swing in the early stages but there was plenty of excellent golf on show to whet the appetite before the PGA Tour returns behind closed doors next month. 

Johnson, McIlroy and Rickie Fowler (left to right) carry their own bags at Seminole Golf Club

Johnson, McIlroy and Rickie Fowler (left to right) carry their own bags at Seminole Golf Club

NASCAR OFFERS HOPE TO F1

After 10 weeks without a race, NASCAR made its return in Darlington, South Carolina, on Sunday.

‘Up until probably about two or three hours before the race, I was ready for something to go wrong,’ admitted Brad Keselowski, who finished 13th, after the race.

‘What’s it going to be?’ he added. ‘Is someone going to be sick? Or is there going to be somebody boycotting outside the racetrack? But nobody did. Nothing bad happened. They pulled this thing off. It feels little bit like a Christmas miracle.’ 

NASCAR implemented a number of strict regulations to ensure the safety of its drivers and staff, with drivers carrying their own helmets, water bottles and other equipment, and face masks being worn by those at the track.

The first NASCAR race since coronavirus lockdown went ahead in South Carolina on Sunday

The first NASCAR race since coronavirus lockdown went ahead in South Carolina on Sunday

No fans were permitted to attend but roughly 900 essential staff – including drivers, team members, officials, safety personnel and media – were allowed on site to ensure the race went ahead as planned.

The successful return of NASCAR is sure to provide a boost to Formula One, who have seen their 2020 season destroyed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Austria will hold the first two F1 races in July and, even though NASCAR is not set up in exactly the same way, the completion of Sunday’s event shows that motor racing can return safely with social distancing and other safety measures in place.

THERE’S NO STOPPING UFC

Despite coronavirus hitting the United States particularly hard, UFC president Dana White has been determined to push ahead with his brutal brand of MMA.

The 50-year-old courted controversy over the last couple of months with his desperate attempts to get off UFC 249 off the ground, discussing everything from a ‘fight island’ to hosting on an Indian reservation in California. 

He eventually settled on getting back to business in Florida, and on Saturday night put on his third behind closed doors show inside a week.

Alistair Overeem (right) throws a punch during his victory over Walt Harris on Saturday night

Alistair Overeem (right) throws a punch during his victory over Walt Harris on Saturday night

White insists that UFC are taking every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of their fighters, with coronavirus testing and having minimal staff on site at the forefront of his plans.

And even though Jacare Souza was pulled from his fight at UFC 249 just hours before he was due to fight after testing positive for the disease, that hasn’t stopped White pressing ahead with his plans.

Whether you agree with what he’s doing on not, White’s fierce determination to keep fight fans entertained should be admired. 

GET READY FOR A VERY DIFFERENT PREMIER LEAGUE 

With the Premier League pushing ahead with Project Restart, the return of the Bundesliga gave us a glimpse of what we can expect when top-flight English football resumes.

No handshakes, substitutes sat apart wearing masks, socially distanced celebrations and silent stadiums were just part of the new normal in Germany.

And while broadcasters are exploring ways of improving the atmosphere for Premier League viewers, we must accept that things will be very different for some time.

Many, if not all, of the measures seen in the Bundesliga will be implemented when Liverpool and Co return to action, which is likely to be in the latter half of June. 

Fortuna Dusseldorf's manager, coaching staff and substitutes sit apart against Paderborn

Fortuna Dusseldorf’s manager, coaching staff and substitutes sit apart against Paderborn

The game we love will be markedly different, with players struggling for fitness towards the end of games and passionate celebrations among team-mates and fans a thing of the past. 

Some football fans have suggested that they will have little interest in watching football until it returns to its pre-coronavirus state and supporters are allowed back into grounds to cheer on their teams.

That looks a long way off at present, and Premier League viewers will need to accept a sanitised version of the game if they want to get their fix anytime soon.



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