An Important Year for Women's Sports, Paused By Coronavirus
Attendees and millions watching on TV and online listened to Ionescu say that if Kobe saw her as the present of the game, he saw Gianna, also known as Gigi, as the future.
“I wanted to be a part of the generation that changed basketball for Gigi and her teammates,” Ionescu said through tears. “Where being born female didn’t mean being born behind. Where greatness wasn’t divided by gender.”
Ionescu’s collegiate career was cut short with the cancellation of both the men’s and women’s N.C.A.A. basketball tournaments. Viewership and attendance for the women’s tournament, and Oregon Ducks’ games in particular, were expected to be especially high this year because of Ionescu’s star power.
Next on the calender for Ionescu and other heavily scouted women’s basketball players is the W.N.B.A. draft, scheduled for April 17. The start of training camp is to follow on April 26, and the season opener on May 15. All those dates still stand, but they have been thrown into flux as sporting leagues reconsider large gatherings.
If some events are postponed, their schedules may clash with those of reawakened men’s leagues. Many professional women’s leagues share arenas with men’s teams, playing during different months of the year. And unlike elite men’s leagues that rely on huge TV deals from major networks, the W.N.B.A. and the W.N.H.L. must count on sponsors to ensure that their seasons run and their paychecks clear.
There’s a reason that women’s basketball jerseys display their sponsors’ names so prominently. The jerseys of the Minnesota Lynx are almost covered by such names, with the Mayo Clinic above each player’s number and Verizon below it. A small team logo sits on one shoulder.
Sponsorship deals, particularly those for individual athletes, tend to have clauses that specify payment based on the number of games played and appearances made on TV and at live events. Though there may be a clause taking into account sick days, or game cancellations due to inclement weather, there is no provision for a pandemic.
Many professional runners are feeling anxiety as their competitions disappear. Not only could appearance fees and performance bonuses evaporate, but athletes positioned to be signed by new sponsors have now lost auditioning opportunities.
The professional runner Molly Huddle spoke specifically about collegians, whose two most important meets of the year — the N.C.A.A. indoor and outdoor national championships — were canceled.
“There were athletes who were poised to win indoor and outdoor N.C.A.A. races, and I don’t know what this means for them,” she said on Friday. “That could have been one kid’s chance to run professionally.”
For the women in professional hockey, one of the biggest fears is losing visibility for their sport altogether. Elite players had largely boycotted the N.W.H.L. because of its low wages and working conditions, and they were embarking on a so-called Dream Gap Tour, a barnstorming event put together by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. For many Olympic-level players, the now-canceled women’s world championships, which were to begin March 31, represented the largest stage and best international competition until the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“Whenever we are not able to be visible, it definitely hurts the sport for sure,” the Olympic gold medalist Hilary Knight said. “It’s unfortunate whenever your sport needs that visibility and programming and it gets canceled. It definitely hurts the sport, but we’re going to work hard to make sure to make up that terrain next year.”
Carol Schram contributed reporting.
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