Breakaway Super League, Tokyo's 'Covid Games', cricket's racism crisis

England's men made the final of the European Championship for the first time.

It's hard to remember a more momentous year for sports news than 2021, one full of ups and downs, with compelling drama on the field and controversy off it.

If 2020 was the year that sport stopped because of Covid, this year it defiantly bounced back, the spectators who gradually returned to venues rewarded with some unforgettable performances.

The US Open triumph of Emma Raducanu was arguably the greatest sporting fairy tale in British history, potentially hugely significant for the future of both tennis and women's sport.

The Lawn Tennis Association was hoping that the teenager's win would inspire many youngsters to take up tennis, after fears that the sport had failed to harness Andy Murray's era of success.

The first ever appearance by England's men in football's European Championship final and British athletes' feats at the Tokyo Olympics were some of the performances that lifted spirits.

The driver's championship was decided on the very last lap of the last race after a decision by the race director costing Lewis Hamilton the title. Max Verstappen's victory has divided the sport because of fears that entertainment was put ahead of fairness.

There is discussion and debate on the big off-field issues.

There is a crisis for football and cricket.

The rise and fall of the European Super League and English cricket's racism crisis were two of the biggest stories I have covered in the last two decades.

In terms of sheer intensity, levels of interest, and impact, the corruption scandal of Fifa in 2015 is the best example. The collapse of the ESL plot and the turmoil at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, following very different controversies, had much greater domestic relevance than the implosion at Fifa. Both stories raised serious questions about governance, and their significance extended to politics and wider society.

The year in which football finance was a central theme was encapsulated by the unprecedented protests and fan power that helped defeat the ESL, the tension and divisions it caused between clubs and leagues, and the renewed scrutiny of ownership.

One of the most controversial deals in the game's history was the Saudi-led takeover of the club, which was seen as an attempt to sports-wash the country's human rights record.
The proposal for a biennial World Cup was the latest move in a continuing power struggle between the governing body, confederations and clubs.
Lionel Messi's transfer from Barcelona to Paris St-Germain was a move that defined the difficulty the sport's traditional powers now face trying to compete with clubs bankrolled by Gulf states.
Derby County went into administration, the highest-profile example of a period in which football finance increasingly appears broken.
For the first time, an independent football regulator has been suggested by the publication of the landmark fan-led review by the former Sports Minister.

The fate of the proposals in the face of opposition by some of the English clubs will be a major feature of the next edition of the competition.

In September 2020, Azeem Rafiq made accusations of racism.

The crisis that brought Yorkshire to its knees will be judged on the ability of the ECB to restore faith and improve diversity in a sport that has been badly damaged by it.

Azeem Rafiq's allegations of racist abuse at the club sparked a national debate over inclusivity, language and prejudice and has since led to a flood of further allegations of discrimination across the county game.

The Euros is a compelling and controversial thing.

The Euro 2020 final has police controlling the crowd.

The online abuse suffered by some of England's black players after the final defeat by Italy at the Euros was the most famous example of racism in football.

In a year in which England players were booed for taking the knee before matches, and then abused by fans in Hungary, the episode after the penalty shootout defeat heaped more pressure on the social media tech giants.

The violence and disorder at Wembley before the match overshadowed one of the most significant days in the history of English football, leading to an unprecedented Uefa punishment for the Football Association and a damning independent review into the failures behind the chaos.

The Euros will be remembered by many, despite the fact that the tournament was postponed due to the swine flu.

The way in which Christian Eriksen collapsed in the opening match of the season was a huge shock to the Danes, and they were praised for how they handled it.

England's men's team reached their first major final in 50 years. There were also many regrets.

There are games behind closed doors.

The team returned from the Olympics.

The Covid Games in Tokyo were unique. The Olympics were staged in a state of emergency, but were the first ever to be staged behind closed doors, with the International Olympic Committee under intense scrutiny over their decision to press on despite Japan's slow vaccine take.

The sense was that the Games were saved by the performances of the athletes. There were new world records, major surprises, and a host of new stars.

Despite the added scrutiny on Britain's high-performance system after the series of athlete welfare controversies of recent years, and the challenges of the pandemic with protocols and restrictions to navigate, there was another hugely impressive medal haul by Team GB. Sixty-five medals exceeded all expectations and were one of the greatest achievements in the history of British Olympic sport.

In the traditional powerhouse of rowing, Britain had their worst Olympics since 1996, and there was no gold in track and field, but with the help of historic performances by the swimming and boxing teams, and the emergence of some new stars, Team GB finished fourth in the medal table.

Sarah Storey is the most successful British Paralympian of all time.

The ParalympicsGB were second in the medal table with 124 medals, including 41 golds. The new team record for medals won by Britain was 18.

Tokyo made history for other reasons too. New Zealand's weightlifter, who was born male, became the first openly trans athlete to compete at an Olympics in a different gender category to the one in which they were born, a defining moment in a divisive debate that has forced sports to confront issues of gender, inclusivity and fairness

The story of the Games was the series of withdrawals by Simone Biles, which raised awareness of the pressures athletes are under, an issue that will be brought up by Naomi Osaka and Ben Stokes in 2021.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport is currently handling the case of the British sprinter who tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended from competition.

The IOC launched an investigation into the allegations that Belarus tried to force Krystina Timanovskaya to return to her home.

Major sports news stories.

There were many big stories in the year of 2021.

One of the game's gravest crises was caused by the historical child sex abuse in English football.
The ex-British Cycling and Team Sky chief doctor was found guilty of ordering banned testosterone in order to help an unnamed rider cheat.
According to the investigation, Daniel Kinahan was still working at the top of world boxing. The allegations that Mr Kinahan is a crime boss are false and his lawyer told the programme that he has no criminal record or convictions.
There have been sexual abuse cases in women's football in Australia, the United States, and Venezuela.
The player returned to Manchester United.
Dunne was banned for 18 months, with three months suspended, after he was found guilty of harassing another jockey.
The Rio 2016 Olympics were found to have a system to manipulate the outcome of boxing matches by officials, with widespread evidence of corruption and bribes.
There was global concern over the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared from public view after accusing a top leader of forcing her to have sex. The Women's Tennis Association said it was concerned that she was being silenced by the state, despite her denial of making an accusation of sexual assault.

The year to come.

China will cause controversy with the Beijing Winter Games approaching, and also because of the challenge that the Omicron coronaviruses variant presents.

There will be a lot of interest in how athletes handle the event, especially given the renewed activism of recent years, with more and more competitors speaking out about a range of social issues.

The same applies to the World Cup in Qatar, another hugely controversial mega- event, because of concerns over the treatment of migrant workers.

The scrutiny has not waned after 11 years since the tournament was awarded to the country of Qatar. This year saw the first protests by players, with Germany, Norway and the Netherlands expressing their concerns over human rights before the games, and it will be interesting to see if British teams add their voices as the tournament looms into view.

As all sports continue to grapple with the ramifications of the Pandemic, expect continued focus on football's relationship with both the gambling industry and virtual currencies.

The biggest and most expensive sports event in Britain since London 2012 will still be staged in the city of Birmingham, despite the fact that it should be less contentious. With the Commonwealth Games Federation preparing to change the format of future events as it desperately seeks new hosts and renewed relevance, it could be the last of its kind.

England's staging of the Euros will be a significant opportunity for women's sport, after so much progress in recent years. The Rugby League World Cup and the Euros must be seized on because of the harm the Pandemic has done to community sport and rates of physical activity over the past two years.