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Natural disasters and dodgy plumbing - when sport has had to pull the plug

World Rugby are not the first organisation tasked with cancelling fixtures.

IT’S NEVER EASY to pull the plug and let people down, so spare a thought for World Rugby this week.

Sure, their contingency plan has come under question, and yes, the decision to cancel New Zealand v Italy, despite Italy still technically being in with a shot of making the quarter-finals, along with England v France, is not a great look in terms of the credibility of the tournament.

World Rugby were fully aware of the backlash they would face, yet still went ahead with a decision that will leave a bit fat asterisk on the tournament’s Wikipedia page.

They are not the only ones to find themselves in such a position.

Down the years there have been many instances of the powers that be deciding that sport needed to take a backseat. 

Some have been out of necessity, some out of respect, and some out of outright carelessness.

The Six Nations v the weather 

Round 2 of the 2012 Six Nations, and it’s France v Ireland in Paris. It’s a bitterly cold February night as 80,000 people squeeze into the Stade de France, yet English official Dave Pearson isn’t happy with the state of the pitch.

jamie-heslip-and-donncha-ocallaghan-applaud-the-crowd Jamie Heaslip and Donncha O'Callaghan leave the pitch before Ireland's match against France is postponed. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It’s frozen. It’s been frozen for hours, but for one reason or another they had decided to give it every chance to thaw out. A decision isn’t made until two minutes past the scheduled kick-off time. An announcement is made while the French Military Band are still playing, expecting the teams to emerge at any minute now. The crowd boo. Nicolas Sarkozy looks mildly inconvenienced. A rematch is played three weeks later.

It’s a 17-17 draw. Nobody is happy. Wales win the Grand Slam.

The NBA and America in the 1960s 

America has seen few decades as volatile and revolutionary as the 1960s, a period that included the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights movement. 

In the space of five years during this time, America lost two of its most iconic leaders.

President John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and the sporting world was so shocked that they didn’t know how to react. Kennedy was shot on a Friday. The NBA told their teams to complete their fixtures that weekend, making exceptions for only the games scheduled for the day of the shooting. In total, three games were rescheduled for early 1964.

When Martin Luther King was killed on 4 April 1968, four games scheduled for the following week were pushed back a couple of days.

The NBA has reacted similarly whenever tragedy has struck in the years since.

Five games were cancelled in the days following 9/11, and a Boston Celtics home game was pulled on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

The NFL v natural disasters  

While the NBA’s contingency plan for tragedy seems to be consistent, the same cannot be said for the NFL.

When Kennedy was shot there was never a suggestion of calling any games off, with all teams taking to the field that weekend.

Yet the NFL had a long history of happily cancelling games before that.

In the 1920s and 1930s, a team could cancel a game without fear of penalty — handy when your star quarter-back is nursing a sprained wrist.

The NFL eventually standardised league schedules in the early Thirties and since then have generally managed to ensure all games go ahead, even if it involves moving teams out of their home stadium, with teams often disrupted by heavy snowfall or dangerous storms.

The New Orleans Saints played a full schedule of games in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina, despite the damage caused to their stadium, the Superdome. Instead, the NFL arranged for the Saints to play their home games at San Antonio’s Alamodome and at the LSU Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.

In 1974 and 1982 there was disruption to the regular season schedules as a result of a player strike, while in 2001 they postponed week two’s fixtures until the end of the season following the 9/11 attacks.

The GAA and Bloody Sunday

There are countless examples of GAA games being cancelled or postponed, starting with your own Junior B hurling games that for some reason are scheduled for mid-January, the National League games that regularly fall victim to the weather, and escalating all the way up to the business end of the senior inter-county championship.

The most high profile example of this is still the events of 21 November, 1920, when 14 people were shot in Croke Park by British gunmen during a challenge match between Dublin and Tipperary. That year’s football and hurling Championships would not be completed until 1922.

view-of-some-lone-irish-fans-before-the-game Ireland and France supporters at the Stade de France in 2012. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Olympics in wartime 

The first time the Olympics were cancelled was 1916. Despite the fact that World War I began two years previously, planning for the Berlin Games had continued as usual, with organisers working under the assumption the war would end long before the Olympics began. The Olympics would eventually return to Berlin in 1936, 20 years after they were originally due to be held in the city.

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In 1940, the Olympics were moved from Tokyo and rescheduled for Helsinki before eventually being cancelled as World War II showed no sign of ending. The Winter Olympics suffered a similar fate, with the IOC arranging and confirming three separate venues before eventually cancelling the whole thing. The Games were moved from Japan to Switzerland when the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, and were then awarded to Germany following a dispute between Swiss organisers and the IOC. When World War II started, the IOC finally gave up.

It was a similar story in 1944 as war raged on. London had been selected to host the Games in 1939, but it became clear the event could not go ahead long before the date arrived. When the Games finally did continue in 1948, eight years on from the last Olympics, London held the Games. The Winter Olympics, set for Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, were cancelled three years in advance, and resumed in Switzerland in 1948.

Liverpool v their own plumbing 

It was the start of the 1987-88 First Division season, and it was shaping up to be a big year for Liverpool. They had finished the previous season second, trailing winners and bitter rivals Everton by nine points. To make matters worse, Liverpool legend Ian Rush had just left for Juventus.

A stench hung around the club.

No really, a stench hung around the club.

A sewer, which was over 100 years old, collapsed in the middle of the Kop and opened up a 20 foot hole in the stand.

As a result Liverpool had to play their first three games of the season away from Anfield in order for the repair work to be completed.

It didn’t seem to cause Kenny Daglish’s team any harm. They embarked on a 29-match unbeaten run and won the league after suffering only two defeats in 40 games.

Liverpool were also the subject of a high-profile cancellation in 1997, when their home game against Newcastle was suspended following the death of Princess Diana earlier that day.

Soccer, in general, has had its fair share of cancellations down the years. One of the most memorable recent incidents came in the second leg of last year’s Copa Libertadores final between River Plate and Boca Juniors, which was was postponed following an attack on the Boca bus by rival supporters which left a number of players injured. The game was eventually moved to a different continent and played in Madrid.

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