After an unforgettable and relentless year for sports news, what does 2017 hold in store? Plenty, as sports editor Dan Roan explains:
There’s no football World Cup, and it may not be an Olympic year, but expect 2017 to revive fond memories of the London Games, with a host of major sports events on the horizon.
Buoyed by Britain’s remarkable success in Rio last year, track and field will take centre stage, first at the World ParaAthletics Championships, and then the IAAF World Championships, both held at London’s former Olympic Stadium. It is the first time the two events have been held in the same city, and the same summer.
It promises to be a fitting send-off for triple Olympic champion Usain Bolt, racing competitively for the final time before he retires, and also for double Olympic champion Mo Farah, who says he will focus on the marathon after the worlds.
With Jessica Ennis-Hill already having retired however, it will be interesting to see whether a new generation of British talent – led by Scotland’s Laura Muir – can make their mark, (and whether Russia will be allowed to compete at all after recent claims of state-sponsored doping).
With the world’s best team lying in wait, the British and Irish Lions trip to New Zealand is arguably the biggest and most anticipated rugby tour ever, and certain to add even more spice to this year’s Six Nations.
With England unbeaten under Eddie Jones and Ireland having recently won against the All Blacks for the first time, coach Warren Gatland can select a strong squad to seriously challenge the hosts. But it will be far from easy.
The ultimate rugby challenge awaits against a team that continues to come as close as any in sport to perfection. If there is one place above all others to be covering sport this year, it is Auckland on 24 June for the first Test of what should be a titanic series.
Having come third in the 2015 World Cup, England’s women footballers will have high hopes in the biggest Euros staged to date, with 16 participants vying for glory in the Netherlands.
A mouth-watering opening tie against Scotland in Utrecht on 19 July should ensure significant interest in a competition that is expected to give another major boost to the women’s game.
This summer will also see England host the women’s cricket World Cup, and Ireland stage the rugby union World Cup, with England confident of retaining the title they won three years ago.
The last time England turned up in Australia for the Ashes, they were humiliated, with batsman Jonathan Trott leaving a shambolic tour early, Graeme Swann retiring mid-series, and Kevin Pietersen playing his last Test before being banished.
This time, with the likes of Joe Root and Ben Stokes now firmly established among the world’s finest cricketers, they should fare significantly better that the 5-0 whitewash they endured in 2013-14. By the time the series starts in November, Australia will have also hosted rugby league’s World Cup, with England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all involved.
Elsewhere, in football it will be fascinating to see who prevails in the Premier League, with the ‘big six’ clubs having restored the natural order after the Leicester City ‘miracle’ last season. And there is the climax to qualification for the 2018 World Cup to look forward to as well.
The incredible spending potential of China’s clubs will no doubt continue the power shift in football’s transfer market, along with more Chinese investment in English clubs.
It is also a big year for sailing, with Sir Ben Ainslie aiming to bring the America’s Cup to Britain for the first time.
Lewis Hamilton is favourite to claim a fourth world title as F1 prepares for life without last year’s winner Nico Rosberg, and with Liberty Media hoping to complete their multi-billion dollar takeover of the motorsport series, expect change away from the the track too, with much interest in the next move of F1’s 86-year-old commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
In tennis, world number one Andy Murray will attempt to win the Australian Open for the first time, and cycling’s Chris Froome will target a fourth Tour de France victory, while Carl Frampton v Leo Santa Cruz and Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitschko are the highlights of a bumper year in boxing.
And perhaps we will finally discover if the prospect of a mega-fight between UFC superstar Conor McGregor and retired unbeaten boxer Floyd Mayweather is anything more than just talk.
Doping was the longest-running and biggest single issue in sports news last year, with claims of Russian state-sponsored cheating laid bare in two damning reports by Professor Richard McLaren, the build-up to the Rio Games overshadowed by the scandal, and the suspension of tennis star Maria Sharapova.
In 2017, sports’ leaders will be under mounting pressure to finally decide how to regain trust in the world’s anti-doping regime. When the two International Olympic Committee (IOC) commissions have concluded their work, the organisation must punish Russia.
With more positive results from the re-testing of Russian samples from London 2012 and Sochi 2014 expected over the coming weeks, and with the country already having been stripped of the bobsleigh and skeleton World Championships in March, should it also be banned from the winter Games next year?
Russia has now admitted some doping took place, but continues to contest any government involvement, and there are serious doubts that it can persuade athletics’ governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), to lift its suspension of the country’s track and field athletes in time for the World Championships.
The long-anticipated reform of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) must also be decided. Will it be granted the autonomy, additional resources, and sanctioning power that many in the anti-doping community are demanding?
These are the difficult questions international sport must wrestle with over the coming months as it tries to recover from the worst doping scandal in history.
There could be more bad news on the way however, with reports that the names of athletes who had bags of blood confiscated as part of Operation Puerto in Spain may be revealed. And could the Fancy Bears hackers cause more mayhem with further revelations?
For the Football Association, Clive Sheldon QC has become a very important man.
The barrister is heading up the governing body’s review into allegations of child sexual abuse, and the FA is under mounting pressure to make the findings public, and then to act on them decisively and appropriately.
With hundreds of victims coming forward, more than 155 suspects identified, and 148 clubs involved – so far – the scale of the scandal is breathtaking.
With the possibility of more suspensions of officials, along with the prospect of further criminal charges, and compensation claims, this story will extend well beyond 2017 as British football seeks answers to the worst crisis in its history.
Current footballers may have been slow to publicly back the Offside Trust – set up to support the victims of abuse – but the issue of child protection in sport is here to stay.
After the most turbulent year in its history, cycling is braced for the conclusion of two separate investigations.
UK Sport will shortly announce the findings of an independent review into whether there was a culture of bullying and sexism at governing body British Cycling after a series of allegations from former riders and employees.
Meanwhile, after being questioned by MPs over the circumstances surrounding a medical package delivered to his former rider Sir Bradley Wiggins, the future of one of the country’s leading sports coaches – Team Sky supremo Sir Dave Brailsford – will hinge on the outcome of a UK Anti-Doping investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in the sport.
Wiggins recently announced his retirement. But with the parliamentary committee considering calling more witnesses, do not expect the controversy over his use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) before major races to go away.
Wiggins’ TUEs were approved by British authorities and cycling’s world governing body the UCI.
The pressure is still on the country’s most decorated Olympian – and its most successful sport. The British President of the UCI, Brian Cookson, will seek re-election, while British Cycling must appoint a new chief executive.
The countdown to what has the potential to be the most controversial World Cup to date has begun.
Organisers of Russia 2018 have already had to defend themselves against accusations of corruption in the bidding process, racist behaviour, and, since those chaotic scenes at last year’s Euros in France, a new generation of hooligans.
The recent state-sponsored doping scandal has only intensified calls for Russia to be stripped of football’s showpiece event. Lots will be at stake this summer when the nation hosts the Confederations Cup – the traditional dress-rehearsal for the World Cup.
The race for 2024
For three cities, the clock is ticking down to Wednesday, 13 September.
That is when, in Lima, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will gather amid the usual fanfare, and vote to decide the hosts of the 33rd Olympiad in 2024. Before then, expect eight months of presentations, inspection visits and relentless lobbying.
The race is seen as a straight fight between what appear to be two ‘safe’ candidate cities; Los Angeles and Paris, both bidding to stage the Games for a third time. But the IOC is under serious pressure over the budget-busting costs and questionable legacy benefits of their showpiece event.
So how better to prove that President Thomas Bach’s ‘Agenda 2020’ reforms – designed to bring about cheaper, more sustainable Games – are actually working, than to award them to a more modest bid, from a smaller city, like dark horses Budapest?
Paris remains the favourite, but with US network NBC paying the IOC billions in broadcast rights, and with the next three Olympics all heading to Asian time zones (especially unfavourable to American TV audiences), LA’s supporters are growing increasingly confident that it is their turn.
Will a Donald Trump administration harm the US city’s chances? Could the possible election of far-right leader Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election in April have a similar impact on Paris? All will be revealed in Peru.
The integrity of sport will continue to be a priority for politicians in 2017, with the government committed to a review of the UK Anti-Doping Agency.
Also expect significant interest in whether the government’s latest sports strategy – intended to tackle inactivity – especially among the poor and children – is making any progress.
By April, all sports that want to receive public funding must also show they are taking steps to comply with a new governance code, designed to improve decision-making, transparency and diversity on boards.
Sports that controversially lost out in UK Sport’s recent divvy-up of National Lottery elite performance funding will have their appeals heard. And with football’s abuse scandal emphasising the importance of child protection, Baroness Grey-Thompson’s review into sports’ duty of care towards athletes will also take on extra significance.
With the election of a new president, 2016 was a year of relative calm for Fifa as football’s world governing body tried to move on from the scandal that shook it to the core.
But later this year, the long-awaited trial of defendants in the wide-ranging corruption case, led by the FBI, begins in New York.
There will be other issues of course; from the threat of terrorism, to safe-standing in football, concussion in rugby, mechanical doping in cycling, tax evasion and the rise of e-sports. The sports news agenda in 2017 could be as intriguing, controversial and scandalous as ever.