10 things we learned about sport in 2021

The Olympic Games, Euro 2020 and the Ryder Cup were all finally held as Britain found a new golden girl and racism in cricket reared its ugly head.

By Press Association Published: 16 December 2021 - 6.01am

2021 provided rich sporting drama as the Olympic and Paralympic Games and Euro 2020 were finally held after being delayed by coronavirus for 12 months.

Here, the PA news agency looks at 10 things we have learned about sport during an action-packed year.

Olympics can be held during a global pandemic

Exactly 12 months after they should have been held, the Tokyo Olympics went ahead amid searing heat and humidity. A rise in Covid-19 cases in the Tokyo area cast a large shadow over the ‘Ghost Games’ but relatively few cases were directly linked with the influx of athletes and other Games-related personnel, and the International Olympic Committee congratulated itself on staging the event. There were some protests from the Japanese public but the sport saved the day and showed the value of holding an Olympics during a global pandemic.

Great Britain remain an Olympic and Paralympic force

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Package
Olympic swimming champion Adam Peaty led Great Britain’s medal charge at the Tokyo Games (Adam Davy/PA)

Great Britain dropped two places to fourth on the Olympics medal table in Tokyo, with China and hosts Japan second and third behind the United States. But it was still a hugely successful Games for Team GB, who equalled their 65 medals tally at London 2012 by winning 22 gold, 21 silver and 22 bronze. Boxing, cycling, sailing and swimming led the way as athletics and rowing let the side down. Britain finished second on the final Paralympics medal table with a 124-medal haul of 41 gold, 38 silver and 45 bronze, behind only China.

England can make major finals

England v Germany – UEFA Euro 2020 – Round of 16 – Wembley Stadium
England captain Harry Kane (left) and Declan Rice celebrate the Euro round of 16 victory over Germany at Wembley (Nick Potts/PA)

Close but no cigar. England made the most of home advantage at the delayed 2020 European Championship – six of their seven games were at Wembley – to reach their first major final since the 1966 World Cup. Gareth Southgate’s side fell just short of the ultimate prize as Italy prevailed in a nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out. But on the back of making the last four at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Southgate’s squad will believe they can go one better in Qatar in 2022.

Britain has a new golden girl

Emma Raducanu began 2021 wondering whether Covid-19 would allow her to sit her A Levels. After reaching the last 16 at Wimbledon, Raducanu, then 18, stunned the tennis world by winning the US Open. She won all 20 sets she played in qualifying and the main draw to become the first British woman to win a grand slam singles title since Virginia Wade lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 1977. She banked a  £1.8million winner’s cheque, a spot on the red carpet at New York’s fashionable Met Gala and a place in the nation’s heart.

Cricket needs to get its house in order over racism

Yorkshire CCC DCMS committee hearing
Former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations stunned the world of sport (House of Commons)

As footballers continued to take the knee against racism, cricket was engulfed in a crisis that rocked the sport to its core. Yorkshire’s handling of Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of racism and harassment were widely criticised and led to a mass exodus of key officials at the club. Former England captain Michael Vaughan was alleged to have made a racist remark in 2009 – an allegation he strongly denies – as other counties were accused of racism by ex-players. The England and Wales Cricket Board unveiled a 12-point action plan in November, but it is clear much work must be done before the sport repairs its reputation.

Tyson Fury is the heavyweight boss

2021 started with talk that Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury must meet in the boxing ring. It ends with Fury firmly established as the world’s number one heavyweight after delivering an 11th-round knockout of Deontay Wilder in their October trilogy fight. Joshua was outclassed by Oleksandr Usyk in September and the dethroned WBO, WBA, IBF and IBO champion has opted to take an immediate rematch with the wily Ukrainian southpaw. Fury meeting the winner of that one could be the blockbuster fight of 2022.

Blue is the colour

Manchester City v Chelsea – UEFA Champions League – Final – Estadio do Dragao
Chelsea celebrate Champions League success after beating Manchester City in an all-English final (Adam Davy/PA)

Fans of Chelsea, Leicester and Manchester City were feeling far from blue in 2021. Chelsea started the year with former playing hero Frank Lampard in charge and things going badly. But Thomas Tuchel took over in January and the German led Chelsea to their second Champions League triumph. Leicester beat Chelsea 1-0 in May to win their first FA Cup after four final defeats, while City made it a clean sweep for the ‘Blues’ by winning the Premier League and lifting the Carabao Cup.

The Lions need more help

South Africa v British and Irish Lions – Castle Lager Lions Series – Third Test – Cape Town Stadium
British and Irish Lions players are dejected after losing their summer series 2-1 to South Africa (Steve Haag/PA)

On the face of it, a 2-1 defeat to world champions South Africa decided by the boot of Morne Steyn, just as it was in 2009, was no shame for the British and Irish Lions. But it is clear the Lions could be more than the sum of their parts. Preparation was squeezed from six weeks to five and the Lions played one game fewer in the host country. Head coach Warren Gatland urged organisers to provide more preparation time for the next Lions tour to give a greater chance of success, but rugby fans will not be holding their breath before the tourists board the plane to Australia in 2025.

Europe’s era of Ryder Cup dominance is over

Rory McIlroy cried and Ian ‘the Postman’ Poulter failed to deliver as Europe’s Ryder Cup defence was destroyed on the Lake Michigan shoreline at Whistling Straits. The pre-match fears of many Europeans were realised as a new generation of American stars romped to a record 19-9 win. The match proved one too many for the likes of 48-year-old Lee Westwood, Poulter (45) and Paul Casey (44). With the likes of Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler and Daniel Berger all in their 20s, the concern for Europe is that the United States could dominate for some time to come.

Formula One needs to keep the drivers the story

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s final-race shoot-out for F1 glory ended in triumph for the Dutchman, but huge controversy overshadowed the season’s thrilling conclusion in December. Verstappen overtook Hamilton on a final-lap battle after the safety car was deployed. Hamilton’s big lead was entirely wiped out and Verstappen seized full advantage given he also boasted the more appropriate tyres. And so an outright record eighth crown will remain Hamilton’s motivation heading into 2022, but the sport itself must examine the finer details of racing rules that can inhibit outright competition between all that should matter: the drivers.

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