The year 2020 is one many are going to look back on largely for the wrong reasons due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19 has caused havoc around the world in so many various aspects of life – including sport.
However, as we approach 2021 we can all hope that the new year brings about positivity and time for change.
And on that note, Sportsmail’s reporters have provided their New Year’s wishlist for their respective sports ahead of the upcoming 12 months – ranging from potential mouthwatering showdowns to greater reforms.
MIKE KEEGAN (Football)
Fans, fans, fans. Simple, really. Football without the punters is soulless, boring and a pale imitation of what it should be. Here’s hoping it’s safe for them to return in proper numbers over the next 12 months.
Football, like all sports, has been sterile without fans being able to attend due to the Covid-19
MATT BARLOW (Football)
We all knew it but nine months of football in empty – or near empty – venues has confirmed it simply isn’t the same without the roar of the crowd.shibanpharma.com So, yes, it would be nice to see the Premier League season develop into a genuine title race.
It would be great if England could perform well at the Euros. I’d love them to stop players falling over when barely touched and reverse the impact VAR has had on the game. But most of all I’d like to see fans able to safely return to our football grounds. I’d like to feel the noise.
Leicester City’s 4-0 win over Aston Villa on March 9, 2020 was the last time there was a packed stadium for a Premier League game before the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK
MIKE DICKSON (Tennis)
The younger players in the men’s game finally breaking through; the game working together to bring in enhancements; the Brits at all levels of the rankings making progress.
Those would be the three things on my wishlist for 2021, although I cannot say with certainty that any of them will come about.
The race between the men’s ‘Big Three’ to end up with the most Grand Slams will be the over-arching theme, but it would be made all the more interesting if that is complicated by the likes of Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev having a major say in who wins the biggest events.
All the problems brought by Covid ought to focus minds on improving the (awful word) ‘product’. Let’s make more efforts to cut out dead time in matches, allow players to express themselves, and also introduce some faster court speeds.
We would all love to see Andy Murray somewhere near back to his best, but he will not be around forever. We need to see signs of more British players maxing out their ability, as Dan Evans was doing in 2020.
Hopefully Dan Evans can carry his bright start of 2020, before Covid hit, into the 2021 season
JEFF POWELL (Boxing)
Boxing Day. Time to go cold turkey and focus on what we want from the hardest old game in 2021.
First, foremost and soon as possible if you please Messrs Fury and Joshua, let’s get it on. We’ve been waiting long enough and this must not drift over the horizon and out of sight like Lennox Lewis vs Riddick Bowe, Amir Khan vs Kell Brook, Joe Calzaghe vs Carl Froch… etc, etc.
We also need Covid-19 to take the 10 count so prize-fighting can fill with roaring fans all the halls from small to the 02 – as well as Wembley Stadium. And even more importantly bring the amateurs out of lockdown so that our next generation of champions are not lost.
Promoters also need to pay heed to the WBC’s new campaign to prevent mismatches. Too many brave, honest Joes have been sacrificed on the altar of rising stars padding out their records.
And when it comes to the superstars, would Canelo Alvarez kindly stop beating up Brits for fun and take the trilogy fight with Gennady Golovkin which this sport needs to settle once and for all who is the greatest of their era.
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (left) and Gennady Golovkin need to finally agree to a trilogy bout in 2021
DEREK LAWRENSON (Golf)
We’re due an update in March on a project undertaken by the governing bodies into how far the golf ball travels – and you don’t need 20-20 vision to see that something urgently needs to be done before drives of 400 yards become commonplace.
Inside the ropes, let’s hope Rory McIlroy finally gets over the line to achieve the career Grand Slam at the Masters, and a home golfer pulls off a rare victory at The Open at Royal St George’s. Let’s hope Jordan Spieth rediscovers his game and Bryson DeChambeau continues to make jaws drop.
In September, let’s pray for a full-on blast of normal life, with thousands of Yanks screaming ‘USA! USA!’ and it all comes down to the final putt at the Ryder Cup in Wisconsin.
Rory McIlroy will hope to end his wait for a career Majors Grand Slam by winning The Masters
JOE BERNSTEIN (Football)
The concept of ‘level’ should be reintroduced to offsides as the VAR technology is not good enough to be fully accurate in marginal decisions. James Maddison’s disallowed goal versus Tottenham is a perfect example of this as the ball was already airborne from James Justin’s pass when they drew the lines. When it is so tight you have to zoom in on armpits and shoelaces. Just stick with the ref’s original judgement.
Goalline technology works because people trust it regardless of the small fractions involved. It only has to judge one ball and one line. Offside has to adjudicate on two different players and the precise moment a ball is played maybe 50 yards away. It is a myth to think they are coming up with the correct decisions.
James Maddison’s goal against Tottenham was controversially disallowed after a VAR check
TOM COLLOMOSSE (Football)
Let’s make the FA Cup more like the Coupe de France, surely the greatest knockout competition of them all. The charm of the Coupe is that higher-ranked clubs always have to play away from home when drawn against sides from lower tiers, meaning clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon often have to travel to amateur teams in the sixth or seventh tier of French football, playing in poor conditions in tiny stadiums.
If there were the same format in England, so many routine third-round ties next month would suddenly become exciting: imagine reversing Chelsea vs Morecambe, Everton vs Rotherham and Burnley vs MK Dons. It may go against the grain of modern politics, but it is time to look across the Channel for solutions.
Should the FA Cup take the format of the Coupe de France to revitalise the competition?
PAUL NEWMAN (Cricket)
It is, of course, everyone’s wish for crowds to return in 2021 and how we will relish the full houses at this summer’s Tests and white-ball matches should normality be back by summer.
But if I could hope for one thing to change in cricket this year it would be for Joe Root to reverse the trend of the last two Ashes tours and emulate Andrew Strauss 10 years ago with success in Australia next winter.
Root has already been in charge for two Ashes series – the first ended with him thrashed 4-0 and exhausted in Sydney and the second was a 2-2 draw that saw Australia retain the urn. Not many England captains could survive three without success, even one as popular as Root. So it is fair to assume this is his last chance.
And, whisper it, but despite Australia’s fast bowling excellence England really do have a decent chance of winning this time. But to do so they will probably need Jofra Archer to be fit and firing and will have to carefully navigate a path to protect their key players through the busiest of all cricketing years. Still, there is much to look forward to.
Joe Root knows he is under pressure to captain England to an Ashes series win Down Under
KIERAN GILL (Football)
For changes I’d like to see in 2021, see Sportsmail’s seven-point charter regarding dementia in football. Let’s finally find a suitable replacement for the PFA’s Gordon Taylor, whose exit has taken years to come to fruition.
Let’s get some proper protocols in place to look after sufferers of dementia. Let’s get a cap on heading in training. Let’s get temporary concussion substitutes ratified. As our back page said, enough is enough.
Former footballers and MP’s have taken Sportsmail’s dementia campaign to the Government
DANIEL MATTHEWS (Boxing)
If, and it remains and big if, Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury collide in 2021 the resurgence which has long been bubbling in British boxing will come to the boil.
The only snag? No sport does self-destruct like boxing and, heading into a mammoth year, it remains beset with problems. Few need fixing more readily than the scoring – particularly in Britain, particularly in big fights.
Too often, two professional judges see two totally different fights unfold in one ring.
Too often it happens to foreign fighters on these shores. And too often rogue cards are explained away by the nonsensical notion that ‘it depends what you like’.
The criteria for winning rounds need to be clearer, simpler and more open to scrutiny.
So if promoters, governing bodies and the alphabet organisations running the sport are serious about its standing then they must find a collective solution.
Yeah, I never said it was realistic.
Heavyweight rivals Tyson Fury (left) and Anthony Joshua will hopefully face off twice in 2021
JONATHAN MCEVOY (F1)
If I could wave a magic wand, I’d put Max Verstappen in the Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton.
Alas, this is far-fetched, as I fear is my second wish: namely that Mercedes flick Valtteri Bottas and replace him with George Russell, the Englishman who stepped in so brilliantly in Bahrain when the world was ruled out by Covid.
Either replacement for the Finn, who sadly is no match for Hamilton, would enliven the season.
Well, failing both eventualities happening, my hope is that Red Bull can make Hamilton fight for his record eighth title. Even Lewis wants this, as long as he prevails in the end.
There is reason for optimism. The outlawing of the Dual Axis Steering (DAS) device for next season offers encouragement, as does the fact Red Bull won the final race of last season on a traditionally Mercedes-dominated track in Abu Dhabi.
There is a great hope that Red Bull, and Max Verstappen, can challenge Mercedes next season
RICHARD GIBSON (Cricket)
Following a 2020 season without crowds, the thing that I look forward to most in 2021 is the return of spectators to county cricket. They are a committed bunch, emphasised by the donation of thousands of pounds of membership fees to their cash-hit clubs during the Covid pandemic.
Remember, cricket was the first sport to deal with a new season being launched during a time of coronavirus restrictions and the ECB did a superb job in conjunction with its 18 first-class counties to get two bite-size competitions on. However, the lack of fans really hit home on Twenty20 finals day in early October, the occasion on which the interaction between players and the crowd is at its best.
In addition to seeing socially-distanced attendances at Championship cricket from April onwards, how good would it be to see and hear the Eric Hollies Stand rocking to the tune of Sweet Caroline at a full Edgbaston by the end of the summer?
The return of crowds at county cricket will be a welcome sight, if permitted in September
IAN HERBERT (Football)
Football’s 2020 financial crisis revealed a vacuum at the top when it came to governance. Greg Clarke and Gordon Taylor led the FA and PFA through it. No more need be said.
So let 2021 be the year Heather Rabbatts is appointed to chair and lead the FA, bringing the vision, intelligence, powers of articulation and – where needed – the self-effacement that governing body needs.
And let it be the year when Gary Neville becomes the leader of the organisation that speaks for players, when Gordon Taylor is finally cast aside. The PFA chief executive’s role is not one he has aspired to. But Neville’s leading contribution to shrewd proposals, published in October, for an overhaul of the governance of the game, hinted at an appetite to lead.
The pandemic has laid bare football’s desperate lack of individuals capable of doing that.
Gary Neville is fast growing as the perfect candidate to become the new PFA chief executive
LAWRENCE BOOTH (Cricket)
My main wish is that cricket picks up where it left off at the end of the 2019 summer, when England won the World Cup and Ben Stokes kept performing miracles. The game felt ready to move to a new level.
Cricket did better than most sports between the first and second waves of the pandemic, but still incurred huge financial losses. To avoid further damage, it needs the crowds back, as soon as possible, and it needs to grab the imagination again: five Tests against India should help.
Oh, and England simply have to regain the Ashes later in the year, preferably with their fast bowlers – Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, perhaps even Olly Stone – creating merry hell for Australia’s batsmen. Well, we can dream…
England will need to ensure Jofra Archer is fit and firing on all cylinder to win regain the Ashes
CHRIS WHEELER (Football)
Besides a futile wish that VAR could be scrapped and consigned to history (it has taken away far more from football than it can ever give back), I would like to see a fresh clampdown on players feigning injury.
I’m not talking about the histrionics that win penalties, or even get an opponent sent off, just the endless succession of perfectly healthy young men rolling around on the floor screaming when they have barely been touched. The arm in the air used to denote a compound fracture or some other career-threatening injury. Now players are back up and running around seconds later without a hint of embarrassment.
The rule forcing injured players to go off for treatment was designed to discourage this kind of behaviour, but it seems to be worse than ever. Time to double down and keep the cheats on their feet.
It’s time the footballing authorities clamp down on players feigning injuries during matches
ROB DRAPER (Football)
The obvious: fans back, a pulsating Euro 2020 (2021), a full house for England versus Scotland with Harvey Barnes and Jack Grealish starring in a 4-0 win for England.
More research into degenerative brain disease among footballers, proper concussion subs with 10-minute temporary subs NOW and rulemakers IFAB to be accountable for their mistakes in introducing VAR.
Leeds are one of eight Premier League clubs who have a gambling brand as their shirt sponsor
CHRIS FOY (Rugby Union)
The Lions tour of South Africa is the beacon in the distance for rugby. It is the grand event which should drag the sport out of its COVID rut in 2021.
How it is needed. Every four years, the British and Irish crusades generate vast interest, but the next one could really galvanise the game by providing thunderous drama and also a vital financial boost for the host nation and the four home unions.
Despite the global pandemic, thousands of fans have already booked their trips to form another massive ‘Red Army’ on the other side of the equator. In 2017, there were astonishing scenes as spectators from these islands took over the New Zealand capital, Wellington, to see the Lions inflict the All Blacks’ first home defeat since 2009. Unless the virus intervenes, another such raucous but good-natured invasion is on the cards in Johannesburg, Cape Town and beyond.
The British and Irish Lions will return in 2021 as they look to beat world champions South Africa
It will have been a dozen years since the Lions last visited South Africa. The tour in 2009 culminated in a brutal, fluctuating, pulsating Test series, which the Springboks won 2-1. They were world champions then, as they are again now, so another daunting challenge awaits for a travelling squad which is once again under the command of Warren Gatland.
The Kiwi has overseen a sustained revival of the whole Lions concept, by masterminding a series win over Australia in 2013 and the 1-1 draw with the All Blacks four years later.arizona.edu The stakes will be as high as ever because the Lions are always fighting against the threat of sporting extinction in a crowded calendar, despite being adored by public and players alike.
Every aspect of the crusade is the subject of huge scrutiny and intrigue, from the choice of head coach to the appointment of assistant coaches, selection of the squad and captain, and the contest for Test places as the tour unfolds. Maro Itoje is seen as the front-runner for the captaincy and at a time when rugby is under increasing pressure to diversify, having Saracens’ England lock and Siya Kolisi as rival black skippers in the Test series would be a powerful statement of progress.
Maro Itoje (right) is among the leading candidates to captain the Lions on their 2021 tour
While the Lions tour looms as rugby’s marquee attraction in 2021, the Six Nations comes first. It may lack the usual tribal fervour if capacity crowds are still not permitted, but it promises to offer a fascinating power struggle. England remain the standard-bearers in the northern hemisphere but France are enjoying a rapid resurgence and appear ready to disrupt the hierarchy.
French improvements are good news for the credibility of the tournament and the next instalment of ‘Le Crunch’, on March 13 at Twickenham, promises to be a classic. That fixture will be regarded as a momentous tussle for European supremacy, but the whole championship needs to produce a reversal of the stodgy, stifling tactics which scarred the Autumn Nations Cup.
Meanwhile, at club level, there will be considerable interest in the RFU Championship, as Saracens strive to bounce straight back into the top division via unfamiliar excursions to Jersey and Cornish Pirates, Ampthill, London Scottish and Hartpury University. Their campaign in the second tier – which is destined to culminate in a two-leg play-off against Ealing – will be a background attraction while Exeter are storming towards another Premiership title in their absence.
Current holders Exeter Chiefs are heavy favourites to win the Premiership again this season
MARCUS TOWNEND (Racing)
Many things have changed because of Covid-19 but necessity has forced some changes that would not have been considered or tried were we not in a crisis.
A few of them have had positive effect and it will be disappointing if racing doesn’t take these on board by reverting back to the old ways when we finally get the all-clear.
Travel restrictions have meant jockeys have only been able to ride at one meeting a day. Not all riders will welcome that staying in place but it has stopped mad-dashes across the country and jockeys driving themselves to work draining hours in pursuit of rides.
Keeping the rule in place will continue to have a positive effect on the mental health of jockeys by improving their work/life balance.
On the track I’d like to see Tiger Roll have a return to form and, 12 months later than hoped, have a shot at winning a third Grand National at Aintree in April.
Tiger Roll (left, ridden by Davy Russell in 2019) will look to win a third Grand National in April
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