It has been a dramatic year for sports. Like the previous years, there have been epoch-making events, feats of individual brilliance, moments of sheer madness and also unwanted controversies. As the year comes to a close, Outlook revisits some of the unforgettable events and moments from the world of sports which made headlines, starting with France's World Cup triumph in Russia.
- FOOTBALL -
'Black, Blanc, Beur' Ruled Supreme
In a World Cup year, football always dominates. No other sport come close to football, in every sense – the importance, the popularity, et al. This simple ball game has been arguably the strongest unifying force in a divisive world. That's why France's win in Russia will be remembered for ages as a triumph of brotherhood rather than a nation claiming the biggest prize in world sport.
A gloriously diverse team showed the power of integration, once again celebrating "Black, Blanc, Beur," which became France's national chorus when Zinedine Zidane led the country to their first ever World Cup victory two decades ago. In the backdrop of persistent political antagonism sparked by resurgent right-wing nationalism, children of immigrants winning the World Cup sure provided a different view on immigration and the worldwide refugee crisis. By the way, a Refugee Olympic Team will compete in the Tokyo 2020 Games.
End Of Messi-Ronaldo Duopoly
Continuing with Russia World Cup, the video assistant referee (VAR) emerged as the unlikely 'hero' playing a decisive part in many games. Then, a certain Luka Modric, who went on to end the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly in the 'world's best player' fight by winning both the FIFA Best and Ballon d'Or awards, enthralled everyone with his selfless plays.
Ballon d'Or celebration for Norway striker Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women's award, went sour after French DJ Martin Solveig asked her if she can twerk.
Back-To-Back-To-Back Champions League Title
Real Madrid won a record-extending 11th UEFA Champions League title, and Zidane left promptly after lifting the third 'Big Ears' as the manager in less than three years. Then, there were insane transfers involving Kepa Arrizabalaga becoming the world's most expensive goalkeeper, and also the moves of Philippe Coutinho and Ronaldo.
Game Of The Century
Despite the hype surrounding the many glorified leagues and rivalries, the Copa Libertadores final between two Argentinean clubs became probably the second most important match after the World Cup final.
Hailed as 'The Game of the Century', the final witnessed a never before seen frenzy in football-crazed Argentina. The second leg was moved thousands of miles away to Spain after fan troubles. River Plate beat Boca Juniors to win South America's biggest club trophy.
Back home, Sunil Chhetri continued to carry the nation's flag. He even pleaded Indians, through a video that went viral, to watch football and support the national team. By the way, he also became the joint second highest international goalscorer among active players along with Messi, and only behind Ronaldo.
- CRICKET -
Meanwhile, cricket remained the favourite pastime for Indians with the majority in world's second most populous country feeding on cricketers' on and off the field personae for their daily dose of social media diet. And in Virat Kohli, everybody found a continuing source for adulation as well as snark. Not many will forget the India captain's "go and live somewhere else" remark to a fan.
However, Kohli has numbers to justify his aggression and vindictiveness. Continuing his splendid form, the right-handed batsman plundered runs in all forms of cricket. He became the fastest batsman to score 10000 ODI runs, in every sense – balls faced, innings taken and time. This year, he became the fastest captain to reach 8000 international runs. He is also the first captain to score 1000+ Test runs in three consecutive years, thus signifying his consistency. These are only a few feats he has achieved in 2018.
Rohit's Rise As An Alternative
Dream Debut For Shaw
The year also witnessed the graduation of prodigious Prithvi Shaw. The teen-sensation became the youngest Indian score a century on Test debut during the first match against the Windies. The match also marked India's 100th Test win at home.
James Anderson - The Most Successful Pacer In Test
During England-India series, James Anderson took five wickets at The Oval which took him past Australia great Glenn McGrath as the most successful pacer in Test cricket. Now, he is only behind the spin trio of Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble. The Oval Test was England opener Alastair Cook's final international match. The series started with England playing their 1000th Test.
Trouble In Women's Team
Not everything was rosy for the women's team. After the semi-final defeat at the World T20 in the West Indies, Indian camp was left asunder with legendary batter Mithali Raj blaming the team management for benching her even as Committee of Administrators (CoA) member Diana Edulji defended the decision.
Indian women's team also lost to Bangladesh in the final of Women's Twenty20 Asia Cup. It was India's first ever defeat in the Asia Cup. During the tournament, Raj became the first Indian cricketer – male or female – to amass 2000 runs in the shortest format of the game.
Polishing With Sandpaper
But what shook the sport was the ball-tampering scandal which resulted in the banning of Australian trio, including two of world's best batsmen in Steve Smith and David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft.
In the never-ending list of expressions suffixed with 'gate', a new word 'Sandpapergate' found its entry into sporting lexicon when Aussie captain Smith, his deputy Warner and batsman Bancroft were found guilty of using a yellow abrasive tap to change the condition of the ball during a Test match against South Africa at Cape Town.
The repercussions of the scandal were so monstrous that the very foundation of Australian cricket was shaken, forcing the Cricket Australi (CA) to conduct a 'cultural review'. Even the Australian Prime Minister made a public statement, denouncing the act.
Two New Elite Members
Afghanistan and Ireland joined the Elite Test playing club with the ICC, sport's governing body making sure that two of the most improved sides in recent years become parts of its global expansion. In their respective maiden Tests, Ireland lost to Pakistan at home, while Afghanistan suffered an innings and 262-run defeat in India.
- TENNIS -
Old Guard Stood Firm
Despite the arrival of hosts insanely talented players, the old guard remained firm in their bid to extend their collective rule in the tennis firmament. The year started with Roger Federer defending the Australian Open title. It was followed by Rafael Nadal winning his 11th French Open title, before Novak Djokovic capture both the Wimbledon and the US Open crowns. And they finished the year as the top three players in the ATP year-end ranking, in the reverse order.
The most impressive of all was Nadal's feat at the Roland Garros. After winning his first French Open title in his first appearance in 2005, the Spaniard continues to remain the King Of Clay.
Mother Of All Outbursts
But tennis witnessed possibly its worst crisis when legendary American Serena Williams confronted the chair umpire Carlos Ramos, calling him a liar, during her US Open women's final defeat to Naomi Osaka of Japan. Williams' outburst at the Flushing Meadows threatened to jeopardise the sport's future.
- OTHER SPORTS -
The Much-Needed Bill
Cricket continued to dominate Indian sports but others played the catch-up game, slowly but surely gaining new grounds and winning new fans. The excellence in badminton, wrestling, shooting, boxing, weightlifting and athletics, and not to forget the invigorating presence of hockey and football, make Indian fans proud. The so-called fringe sports like kabaddi, tennis, etc. are also making their presence felt.
And with many projects for the promotion of sports like the 'Khelo India', India can finally hope to see itself as a true sporting powerhouse, befitting the massive population of the country.
India's Giant Strides In Olympics Sports
In the field, India continued to make massive progress. India won a total of 66 medals to finish third in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Performances of Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, shooter Anish Bhanwala, boxer Mary Kom, paddler Manika Batra, quarter-miler Anas Yahiya, lifter Mirabai Chanu were the highlights of the event. There was also the thrilling Saina Nehwal-PV Sindhu final.
At the Asiad, India recorded its best-ever haul with 69 medals. There were many firsts for India, but Chopra's throw of 88.06m to win gold was the high point. Vinesh Phogat became the first Indian female wrestler to win gold. Manjit Singh and Jinson Johnson finished achieved the rare feat of finishing 1-2 in men's 800m while Hima Das broke the national record in women's 400m. Tajinderpal Singh Toor created a new Games record in men's shot put. And young shooters hit the bullseyes.
Mary Kom became the first ever woman boxer to win six World Boxing Championship gold medals.
Grapplers Made India Proud
Wrestlers continued to make the country proud by winning medals in international meets too. Indian wrestlers returned with eight medals, including Navjot Kaur's gold in women's 65kg from Asian Wrestling Championships in Kyrgyzstan. At the World Wrestling Championships in Budapest, Bajrang Punia won a silver medal in men's 65kg freestyle category to become the first Indian to win multiple medals at the Worlds.
Hockey's Distant Dream
But it was a mixed year for Indian hockey. After losing the bronze medal play-offs at the Commonwealth and Asian Games, India's men's team shared the Asian Cup trophy with Pakistan, thanks to heavy rains in Muscat. Then, India's wait for Hockey World Cup glory continued as the Manpreet Singh-led young side lost to the Netherlands in the quarters. Early in the year, India finished fifth in the six-team Sultan Azlan Shah tournament. The year also witnessed the retirement of former India captain Sardar Singh.
India were in for a rude shock at the Asian Games when their world domination came to an end. The men's team, the eight-time defending champions, settled for a bronze medal, finishing behind Iran and South Korea; while the women's team lost to their Iranian counterparts in the final. On the brighter side, it can be said that the traditional Indian sport is finally going global.
Sindhu Finally Broke The Final Jinx
Sindhu made history by becoming the first Indian to win the season-ending BWF World Tour Finals tournament. She defeated Nozomi Okuhara of Japan. She had previously lost the big finals at Rio Olympics (2016), BWF World Championships (2017, 2018), Asian Games (2018) and Commonwealth Games (2018).
Thanks to her consistent performance, Sindhu's profile has become one of the most sought after in India, rivalling those of cricketers. In fact, the 23-year-old became the 7th highest paid female athlete in the world in 2018, according to Forbes.
In year's celebrity wedding, Saina Nehwal and fellow shuttler Parupalli Kashyap.
Working-Class Driver Rocks
Lewis Hamilton claimed his fifth Formula One World Championship title after finishing fourth in the Mexican Grand Prix. Often hailed as the only working-class driver in the elitist sport, Hamilton has previously won world titles in 2008, 2014, 2015 and 2017.
The Briton, who needed to finish seventh to become the champion, became the joint second most successful F1 driver along with Argentine legend Juan Manuel Fangio, and is two behind German great Michael Schumacher's all-time record of seven title.
300 Years For Sexual Assault
Infamous American sports doctor Larry Nassar was given two separate jail terms of 40 to 175 years and 40 to 125 years, to be served consecutively. It effectively meant at least 300 years in prison. He was found guilty of molesting young girls, including multiple World and Olympic champion gymnast Simone Biles.
Koreas Walked Together
In a show of fraternity true to the sporting spirit, the South Korean and North Korean Olympic contingents walked together during the Parade of Nations at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony at Pyeongchang. It happened at a time when rising nuclear tension and a flare-up between the two neighbours threatened the very existence of the Korean peninsula. It surely was one of the most enduring sporting sights of the year.