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21 for 2021: the unmissable sporting events over the next 12 months

21-for-2021:-the-unmissable-sporting-events-over-the-next-12-months

Six Nations, 6 February – 20 March

Given the 2020 Six Nations concluded on 31 October it is going to feel somewhat bewildering for players, staff and spectators alike when the tournament gets going again a mere 14 weeks later. England are the champions and face Scotland at Twickenham first up, with Ireland’s trip to Cardiff the standout contest of the opening weekend. Ireland host England on the final weekend in what could well be a championship decider.

Australian Open, 8 February – 21 February

The third grand slam of the Covid-era and the first to take place in the year when everyone hopes we return to some level of normalcy. That will not quite be the case in Melbourne given this tournament is starting three weeks later than scheduled due to the presence of the virus and competitors will have their stay and practice conditions heavily modified in line with quarantine protocols. When play does get going, Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin will be aiming to defend their respective men’s and women’s titles.

Formula One world championship, 21 March – 5 December

Having matched Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles this year Lewis Hamilton will be aiming to establish himself as F1’s all-time leading champion in 2021. His pursuit will take place during Formula One’s longest season, with the calendar consisting of 23 races, including a controversial grand prix in Saudi Arabia on 28 November. The 2021 season will also see Sebastian Vettel drive for Aston Martin following his switch from Ferrari.

Max Verstappen enters the pits at Silverstone in August 2020
Max Verstappen enters the pits at Silverstone in August 2020. Photograph: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The Masters, 8 April – 11 April, Augusta

The first major of the year will hopefully see a return of spectators, or to use those most Augusta of terms, patrons and guests. Dustin Johnson competes as defending champion while the European charge will include the likes of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Race to Dubai champion, Lee Westwood.

The Grand National, 10 April, Aintree

“It’s hats off and a tremendous reception … you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool.” Peter O’Sullevan’s famous commentary to accompany Red Rum’s hat-trick in 1977 will be replayed over and over again in the build-up to Tiger Roll’s attempt to win a third consecutive Grand National following this year’s abandonment of the races. Of course crowds will need to be back if there is going to be an echo of that amazing roar.

Women’s FA Cup final, 22 May, Wembley

Can anyone stop Manchester City winning a third FA Cup in a row? That is the burning question going into next year’s tournament and City’s rivals can certainly take hope from how hard Everton pushed them in November’s final. A threat to City’s dominance of the FA Cup comes from close by – Manchester United have impressed in the WSL and may well view winning the double as the ultimate way to mark their arrival in the women’s game.

Champions League final, 29 May, Istanbul

The Ataturk Stadium missed out on hosting the 2020 final due to the pandemic but, all being well, will be the setting for the 2021 occasion. Bayern Munich should fancy their chances of being there to defend the title they won in Lisbon four months ago while three English sides – Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City – are also in the mix. Could this finally be City’s year? It certainly helps their cause that this month’s draw for the last 16 saw them handed a favourable tie with Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Euro 2020, 11 June – 11 July

A European Championship like no other, in more ways than one. Firstly because it’s taking place a year later than scheduled (while still being called “Euro 2020”) and secondly because it will see 24 teams compete across a host of cities, including Rome, Baku, Dublin and Bilbao, with the semi-finals and final taking place at Wembley. From a domestic point of view, England’s clash with Scotland, at Wembley, on 18 June already feels like one to savour.

Tour de France, 26 June – 18 July

Copenhagen was meant to host the Grand Départ but will no longer do so for Covid-related reasons. So, for a fourth time, Brest will kickstart cycling’s most prestigious event and the task for Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar will be to defend the title he won in September. Team Ineos will also be aiming to bounce back after a poor Tour showing in 2020 and will have to do so without Chris Froome following his move to the Israel Start-Up Nation team.

Wimbledon, 28 June – 11 July

The good news is that the Championships are more than likely to take place in 2021 having not being held this year for the first time since the second world war. Organisers expect to welcome full crowds but are braced for reduced numbers, or even none at all. Andy Murray will hope to compete while Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep, both of whom contracted Covid-19 in 2020, will be seeking to defend their respective men’s and women’s titles.

Simona Halep poses with the trophy after winning the women’s singles in 2019
Simona Halep poses with the trophy after winning the women’s singles in 2019. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, 3 July – 7 August

The Lions head to South Africa for for the first time since 2009 and led by Warren Gatland for a third tour in a row. They will play three Tests against the world champions – in Johannesburg, twice, and Cape Town. The task is a formidable one but the priority for all concerned is that the tour actually takes place, with the South Africa Rugby chief executive, Jurie Roux, warning that it simply would not be commercially viable to proceed if fans are not allowed to travel due to Covid restrictions.

The Open, 15–18 July, Royal St George’s, Kent

Royal St George’s hosts the Open for a 15th occasion, for the first time since 2011 and 12 months on from when it was originally scheduled to do so. The R&A is “cautiously optimistic” of welcoming a full attendance – well in excess of 100,000 people – and for Shane Lowry, crowds or no crowds, the task will be to retain the title he won at Royal Portrush in 2019.

The Hundred, 17 July – 13 August

The tournament that has traditionalists scratching their heads in bafflement should take place in 2021 having been postponed for a year due to the pandemic. Eight franchises will compete across eight venues with the hope being – from the England and Wales Cricket Board, at least – that a new format will draw a new, family-centric audience to the sport. With players such as Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Heather Knight and Nat Sciver representing new teams including Northern Superchargers, Southern Brave, London Spirit and Trent Rockets, there should at least be a few moments to savour.

Tokyo Olympics, 23 July – 8 August, Japan

The showpiece event of 2020 will be the showpiece event of 2021 – or at least that’s the hope of organisers who, according to World Athletics president, Sebastian Coe, have a “cast-iron will” to stage the event. Should the Games take place it will be a simplified version of those that have come before, but there will still be plenty of medals on offer. Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson are among those tipped to win gold for Great Britain.

Dina Asher-Smith will be going for gold in Tokyo
Dina Asher-Smith will be going for gold in Tokyo. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

Tokyo Paralympics, 24 August – 5 September, Japan

All being well, the 16th summer paralympic games will see 537 events contested from 22 different sports, with badminton and taekwondo new additions to the programme. Great Britain are targeting gold in a number of events, including wheelchair rugby and shooting.

Women’s Rugby World Cup, 18 September – 16 October, New Zealand

The tournament takes place in the southern hemisphere for the first time and it is fitting New Zealand are the hosts given they are also reigning champions. They find themselves in the same pool as Australia while England are in the same one as France, South Africa and Fiji. Simon Middleton’s side plan on winning the trophy but will have to do so without Katy Daley-Mclean, the captain of their 2014 triumph, following her recent retirement.

Ryder Cup, 21–26 September, Wisconsin

Whistling Straits is scheduled to host the 43rd edition of golf’s greatest team battle. Europe will arrive in Wisconsin having won four of the last five tournaments and confident that, under captain Padraig Harrington, they can triumph again. But the USA, led by Steve Stricker, will contain a host of the world’s leading names and provide a stern test for the men in blue shirts.

Twenty20 World Cup, 18 October – 15 November, India

The tournament did not take place in Australia this year but, all being well, will take place in India in 2021. The same format will be used and for England, one of 16 sides competing across 15 venues, the intention is to win another limited-overs trophy, following on from their World Cup triumph in 2019, as well as make up for their heartbreaking defeat to West Indies in the 2016 final.

England’s T20 team have their eyes on another limited-overs title
England’s T20 team have their eyes on another limited-overs title. Photograph: Gallo Images/Getty Images

Rugby League World Cup, 23 October – 27 November, England

Rugby league’s flagship international tournament, in which Australia will defend the title they won in 2017, is set to go ahead as planned. Should it do so, it will undoubtedly be the biggest and most interesting edition yet, with the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments all running at the same time. Teams from Brazil, Greece and Jamaica will also be making their debuts at the event.

The Ashes, 22 November – 14 January, Australia

Joe Root admitted recently that despite his other, more pressing commitments he cannot stop thinking about the prospect of doing battle with Australia next winter. Should he do so, Root would become the first Englishman since Johnny Douglas in 1920-21 to lead two Ashes campaigns down under and the plan, no doubt, will be to secure a first English series win since 2015 and first away from home since 2010-11.

Anthony Joshua v Tyson Fury, tbc

It would be the biggest fight in British boxing history and all the talk after Anthony Joshua’s recent victory over Kubrat Pulev is that it will definitely happen in 2021. Boxing’s politics – and greed – means it may ultimately not, but for now fight fans can dream of seeing a first ever showdown in which all four heavyweight titles are on the line. It would be historic, huge and, given the fighters involved, undoubtedly unforgettable.

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