By Jose Romero
As North American sports leagues set plans to either return to action or start their 2020 seasons, one league figured out a way to be first. And it hasn’t been shut down yet nor wracked by many positive COVID-19 cases.
The National Women’s Soccer League opened play June 27 with its Challenge Cup, a 23-match tournament between eight of the league’s nine teams. It became the first pro sports league to play since the COVID-19 outbreak shut down sports in the U.S.
The NWSL was largely ignored and left out of the scope of the conversation as leagues announced plans to restart. The NBA, Major League Soccer and the NHL will restart in July, along with Major League Baseball, which took the longest to come up with a plan to resume spring training and presumably play.
While some U.S. Womens National Team players have opted to skip the Challenge Cup, fans are still seeing quality soccer from players who come from North America and beyond. The two-time defending champion North Carolina Courage won its first three matches of the tournament.
The league has shown an openness to its employees’ decisions on how to treat the national anthem at the beginning of matches, given the changing times in which we live and the push to end racism nationwide. Players from both teams knelt on the field in Utah with respect to that cause.
team effort & team win.” pic.twitter.com/iR576DxmFZ
Utah Royals FC (@UtahRoyalsFC) July
Men’s pro sports, including MLS and the United Soccer Leagues, are set for returns to play this week. There remains the possibility that COVID-19 cases could delay or derail those plans, at least for MLS.
But the NWSL has made it more than a week with no signs of stopping. The league has secured sponsorships from major brands and companies. The opening game of the Challenge Cup, on CBS, had better TV ratings than top English Premier League matches. All of this is not just a victory for not just women’s sports but American sports, period, in this times in which we live.