Springtime is typically full of so many sporting events that fans find themselves spoiled for choice—March Madness Cinderella runs, playoffs in basketball and ice hockey, the first home runs of baseball season, and the final matches of European soccer. The summer is peppered with major golf and tennis tournaments, the grueling slog of the Tour de France, and, this year, what would have been the Olympics in Japan. The coronavirus pandemic has ended, or postponed, all of this, bringing major sports (and most of the world) to a near standstill. For fans, it has left a yawning hole in their daily routines, but for the gamblers who watch and wager, it is a double blow.
“There are so many things going usually to keep entertained,” Ryan Metivier, a sports bettor who lives outside of Toronto, told me, “and then suddenly, nothing.” Metivier generally gambles on National Football League games and soccer, and some hockey, tennis, and basketball, but the sports drought has left him, like many others, looking further afield for a bit of action—considerably further.
At first he tuned in to Mexican soccer, before officials suspended play, then he turned to Australian rules football. The sport, a chaotic-looking scramble across a huge pitch, was new to him, but he quickly took a liking to it, before it too was halted. Metivier, who works as a writer and an editor at a sports-betting publication, finally shifted his attention to Tajikistan. The landlocked central Asian nation is one of a handful that have no reported cases of the coronavirus, and this month, its top division of soccer kicked off in an empty stadium. “I’d never heard of that country, but it’s out there and they are playing,” Metivier said. (Gambling on far-afield leagues presented some new challenges, he learned, notably being able to track down reports for scouting teams and matchups. “I would love to go nuts on it, but it is kind of hard to get too much information.”) After a bit of research, he put down a bet, which turned out to be a winner—though he did not actually watch the full match itself: “Setting my alarm at 7 o’clock to watch Tajikistan soccer was where I drew the line.”