COVID permitting, 2022 is set up to be another memorable year of sport, with huge events happening on an almost monthly basis in the lead up to FIFA World Cup, which for the first time ever will be held over the winter.

We take a look at what to expect over the next 12 months…

February: Winter Olympics – Beijing will be the first city to host a summer and winter Games

When politics is the main talking point of a huge sporting event it usually means one of two things – it’s the Olympics or the event is being held in China. Well BINGO! An event that’s never really truly been loved by the British sporting classes, but surprisingly seems to churn out at least one gold medal at each Olympiad (hello curling!), this edition will see Beijing become the first city to host a winter and summer Games following the 2008 event.

So here we are weeks out and all the talk is, rightfully, about China’s questionable human rights record. The UK, US and Australia have already said they won’t be sending diplomats to the event (how Australia are sending athletes also seems implausible), and in return China has said each nation will “have to pay the price for their mistaken acts”, which in political speak actually means nothing at all will happen. China is scared of the West, the West is scared of China, and the world will keep on turning.

Campaign group #NoBeijing2022, made up of Tibetan, Uyghur, Southern Mongolian, Hong Kong and Taiwanese rights groups, want athletes to also take a stand by boycotting the event, but the reality of that just isn’t fair. It’s not the athletes who should be made to suffer for the actions of an International Olympic Committee that suffers with a God complex.

YouTube video

March/April: ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup – England heading to New Zealand aiming for back-to-back wins

One of many major events this year that have been rescheduled due to the havoc caused by COVID in 2020, the cream of women’s cricket will be heading to New Zealand for the biggest prize in the game. Defending champions England will head to the southern hemisphere as one of the hot favourites, and will begin the defence of their crown in Hamilton versus old foes Australia.

Only New Zealand in 2000 have broken the English and Australian dominance of the event since it began in 1973. However, after finishing as runners-up in 2017, India’s women will once again begin their quest to have the kind of dominance their male counterparts have experienced in recent years.

YouTube video

June/July: The Championships, Wimbledon – Raducanu’s SW19 reign to begin?

Despite 2021 being a year that’s featured an Olympic Games and the England men’s team finally reaching a major tournament final, the undoubted highlight and success story was Emma Raducanu becoming the first British women to win a tennis Grand Slam championship in 44 years. The then 18-year-old won the US Open in September, becoming the first ever qualifier in the Open era to win a Grand Slam title. Incredibly, she won the title without dropping a set.

Raducanu broke through three months earlier when she reached the last-16 at Wimbledon whilst waiting for her A Level results; her tournament coming to an end when she retired due to breathing difficulties. With living legend Sir Andy Murray now long down the road towards retirement, Raducanu is the great hope of British tennis and will be desperate to become the first British female to lift the Wimbledon singles title since Virginia Wade in 1977.

YouTube video

July: UEFA Women’s European Championships – Lionessess aiming for home glory

Another major event happening a year later than planned, this event was moved so it didn’t clash with the men’s event last summer and to allow full coverage and exposure to an increasingly demanding English audience. With the final held at Wembley, and England opening the tournament versus Austria at Old Trafford, record-breaking crowds are expected across the country next summer.

With no US Women’s National Team to worry about, Sarina Wiegman’s England will be hopeful of a first major tournament win – though the likes of the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden will stand in their way. It promises to be a brilliant month of football and a huge platform for the women’s game in the UK.

YouTube video

July/August: Commonwealth Games – Birmingham to take centre stage

Do the Commonwealth Games still matter? Have they ever mattered? Like it or not, they’re coming to Birmingham next summer and almost nobody is talking about them. Every four years we’re treated to a tour of a former British colony – until 1978 the event was called the British Empire Games – and this time the Midlands gets to show off what it thinks the world (or the Commonwealth) want to see.

Glasgow played host eight years ago, and in 2002 Manchester was home to the event, so the Commonwealth Games aren’t a stranger to being hosted in the UK. Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium will be transformed into an international athletics arena, and organisers will be hoping the stadium doesn’t become the political football that London’s Olympic Stadium did before the 2012 Olympics.

YouTube video

October/November: Rugby League World Cup – second time lucky for rugby league’s biggest ever showpiece event

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try, and then try again. Initially set to take place in October and November across England, the tournament was cancelled after Australia and New Zealand refused to travel to the UK due to numerous COVID-related restrictions. Faced with a tournament that wouldn’t feature it’s two biggest names, tournament organisers took the hard decision and cancelled the event. The rescheduled 2022 edition however still plans to be the biggest ever, and will feature the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments simultaneously.

Whilst a double-header final will predictably be held at the traditional location of Old Trafford, fixtures will take place all over the country. In what is an extremely bold move, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium will stage one of the men’s semi-finals, whilst the likes of Anfield and Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane have also been selected as tournament venues to help expand the sport outside of its northern heartlands.

YouTube video

November/December: FIFA Men’s World Cup – the most controversial world cup EVER

Last, and by certainly no means least, next winter’s ‘festival of football’ in the desert is set to brighten up our dark, cold evenings. The football will, of course, be great, but this tournament isn’t about that, is it? To everyone’s surprise, except FIFA’s brazen executive committee, Qatar won the right to host the event back in 2010 and ever since it has been mired in controversy.

An estimated 6,500 migrant workers have perished in Qatar in that time as the country continues to build seven new stadiums and multiple new infrastructure projects ahead of ‘welcoming the world’. Amnesty International recently released a report accusing Qatar of failing to implement its own laws designed to improve conditions for migrant workers – something the government “rejects”. Meanwhile, the tournament organising committee continues to say that the event is a “tournament for everyone”, despite Qatar being a country that criminalises homosexuality. A guide for LGBTQ+ traveller’s places Qatar as the eighth “most dangerous” place to travel in the world for the community.

Encouragingly, a number of international teams have begun to speak out on the issues FIFA is hoping just goes away – the Netherlands, Norway and Germany the most notable amongst them. The UK government’s links to the Qatari regime makes the chances of England and The FA speaking out unlikely.

The fact that the tournament will take place in winter, in the middle of numerous domestic seasons, seems inconsequential in comparison to the above, but is simply another reason why the awarding and hosting of this tournament leaves a horrible taste in the mouth. World sport has been climbing the greasy ladder of new wealth and soft power for a number of years now, but next year’s World Cup in Qatar will see it reach unparalleled heights.

YouTube video