Split-site Olympics and robot umpires: our bold sports predictions for 2030

Melissa Jacobs, Dvora Meyers, Hunter Felt, Graham Ruthven, Gabriel Baumgaertner, Beau Dure, Suzanne Wrack and Shireen Ahmed
The Guardian

Here are our bold predictions for the next decade in sports. Please note the bold (or should that be bold?): these are to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Tom Brady plays just one or two games this decade

The New England Patriots’ ageless talisman has continually purported that he wants to play until he’s 44 or 45 or whenever Father Time physically tosses him out of football. But 42-year-old Brady is quickly looking like a player with nothing more to gain by playing. While still a master tactician, his physicality and productivity are diminishing. His 6.6 yards per completion this season were his lowest since 2002 and there’s little to indicate an upward tick is on the horizon. Brady has absolutely nothing left to prove. Quite frankly, every season he spends looking less like Brady in his prime and more like Peyton Manning in his very gimpy final season is a disservice to his TB12 brand which is founded on beating back the clock. Brady the savvy businessman will come to grips with this reality and bid football goodbye soon after getting ousted this postseason. MJ

The end of total US dominance in women’s gymnastics

The US women led by Simone Biles will head into the 2020 Olympics as odds-on favorites to win their third consecutive team title. But Biles has already announced that she is planning to retire after 2020, leaving the future of US women’s gymnastics dominance in doubt. The past decade of US gymnastics dominance is not entirely due to Biles – they won the 2011 and 2012 team titles without her – but since she arrived on the senior scene in 2013, the wins have felt a lot more comfortable. But the decade started with a Russian win at the 2010 world championships and with Aliya Mustafina being crowned all-around champion. And in a Biles-less world, Russia could find themselves on top again. At the inaugural junior world championships, the US placed third behind teams from Russia and China. While success in the juniors doesn’t always translate to senior wins, other countries clearly have a lot of talent in their pipeline. While the US women will still win in the coming decade, it will no longer be as certain as the sun rising in the east. DM

The NBA will agree to shorten the regular-season schedule

Even hardcore basketball fans tend to find the 82-game slate an unnecessarily long slog. With ratings on the decline and teams resting their stars to keep them fresh for the postseason, it’s time for a change, Yes, teams will be hesitant to sacrifice the game-day revenue, but it could be vital for the long-term health of the league. (For the record. however, shortening the season just to add an in-season tournament isn’t a solution to anything.) HF

Promotion and relegation will (finally) come to Major League Soccer

With the announcement that Charlotte will soon be home to a MLS franchise, North American soccer’s top flight swelled to 30 teams. That will make the division by some distance the largest in world soccer and with no fewer than four expansion spots being awarded in 2019 it’s unlikely that growth will stop there. At 26 clubs large, MLS is already experiencing issues, with the 2020 season the first to feature a completely lopsided fixture list - not every team will face each other, essentially rendering the Supporters’ Shield pointless. It seems infeasible that MLS could go beyond 30 teams without splitting into two tiers and so 2020 could be the year that the league finally announces its intention to implement promotion and relegation at some point in the not-so-distant future. It’s long been speculated whether or not MLS would integrate itself into North America’s soccer pyramid. Now it’s getting big enough to be the pyramid all on its own. GR

Robots will call balls and strikes in at least one MLB game

In December, the Associated Press reported that the Major League Umpires Association agreed to cooperate with the development and testing of an automated ball-strike system as part of a five-year labor agreement. The variance of every umpire’s “strike zone” and the growth of instant replay across sports has amplified the conversation regarding robot umpires and whether they’re the future of baseball officiating. With beta testing occurring in the independent Atlantic League and the reported new agreement between the union and MLB, it likely won’t be long until the most sophisticated tracking software appears – even if it’s just for an inning – in an official game. GB

The Olympics will get a reality check and split up

Everyone wants to get into the Olympics – and no one wants to host. Rather than insist on a single host dealing with every event and being stuck with unused bobsled tracks and velodromes, the IOC will see the value in having multiple multi-sport festivals. Imagine a seaside Olympics for sailing, surfing, beach volleyball and a few other sports. Maybe the skating sports and curling can be in one city while a mountain region hosts everything else. Spread the Games, spread the costs, spread the fun. BD

Women’s soccer makes another quantum leap forward

Having experienced probably the most dramatic changes of any sport in a 10-year period makes making bold predictions about the next decade of women’s soccer harder because, in the context of the previous 10, everything looks sort-of wildly achievable. The new-ish professionalism is going to transform the game. We will see the women’s game become a technically superior game than the men’s. Not better, they are different sports to a large extent, but women players have to rely on their skill over their physicality and with a generation coming through that will have been trained from an early age the technical level will skyrocket. The game will also go through a bit of an identity crisis as it struggles to balance growth with avoiding everything that is hated about the men’s game. SW

Sam Kerr will become the legend she is destined to be

As women’s soccer becomes the tour de force that it’s meant to be, we shall see the continued rise of Aussie superstar Sam Kerr. Her recent move to Chelsea women’s side cements that, although WoSo in the USA has dominated the world’s stage, we shall see an emerging European dominance in the women’s game. Kerr has the youth, the power and potential to be one of the greatest players of all time, and outshine many. SA


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