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New Zealand rugby tops list of pro sports that can now be watched in person

Profile Picture: Cam Tucker

June 17th, 2020

It was a sight not seen across the sports world for three long months – stadiums in New Zealand packed with fans for Super Rugby action over the weekend, shortly after prime minister Jacinda Ardern declared the nation free of COVID-19. 

Sports leagues across the globe continue to re-emerge from the hiatus brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which is welcome news for fans. However, the vast majority of leagues do not yet permit supporters in attendance, in accordance with the orders from public health officials. 

Professional rugby in New Zealand is right now the biggest exception, but there are some leagues in the United States that are beginning to plan to host fans in attendance at various events. 

Here are the sports that can be watched in-person right now, or are planning to host fans on-site in the very near future. 

Super Rugby (New Zealand)

If there were empty seats for Super Rugby action in New Zealand last weekend, it was difficult to spot them. 

The scenes out of Auckland, New Zealand over the weekend were stunning, as fans were allowed to attend rugby games following the government’s move to loosen restrictions on public gatherings.

New Zealand has been successful in drastically flattening the curve of COVID-19, with only two new cases reported since May 23. Their success in halting the spread of the coronavirus led to the government’s decision to allow fans back in the stadium to cheer on their favorite rugby teams. 

NASCAR (United States)

NASCAR has given the green light to allow 5,000 fans to attend the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama on Sunday. Under normal circumstances, capacity at the famed venue is around 175,000, and a crowd of about 4,000 represents only 2.2% of normal capacity. 

This appears to be just be the beginning for NASCAR. Plans are reportedly underway to allow upwards of 30,000 spectators to attend the All-Star Open at Bristol. That would be by far the largest crowd to attend a sporting event in North America since the pandemic hit in March, forcing leagues like the NBA, NHL, NASCAR, and MLB to either cancel upcoming events or suspend their seasons. 

The All-Star Open was originally scheduled to be held in North Carolina, but the number of new COVID-19 cases in that state is on the rise, forcing organizers to move the event to Tennessee instead. 

PGA Tour (United States)

It was a different experience for the PGA Tour last weekend at the Charles Schwab Challenge, with no patrons in attendance at Colonial Country Club. 

No one to shout out always-popular original phrases such as, “Go in the hole!” after every shot. No roaring applause or reaction for great shots and key putts made, or to witness the strange ending to the final round on Sunday, when Daniel Berger won in a playoff.  

Fortunately for golf fans, there is hope on the horizon. Last week it was announced that the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Ohio – an event originally scheduled for early June but moved to July 16-19 because of the pandemic – will host patrons. However, the crowd size will be far below normal capacity for the event. 

According to reports, the plan calls for about 8,000 patrons permitted to attend, and tournament organizers have worked with state health officials to implement a number of safety protocols, including temperature readings and questionnaires for patrons upon arrival, as well as making masks mandatory. 

So long as it is safe to do so, it will be nice to see patrons line the fairways at an upcoming PGA Tour event. As enjoyable as it was to watch golf’s best compete at the first tournament in three months, something was missing.

The galleries add another layer of excitement on the final day of a tournament, and the Memorial Tournament can be the first step in the long road to allow patrons at events under stringent safety protocols. 

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