During the 2020 pandemic we have seen significant disruption to many professional sporting codes. Perhaps the most obvious disruption was the delaying of the 2020 Tokyo olympics to 2021.
We recently saw the conclusion of the Tour De France cycling event which was originally scheduled to start 27 June 2020 but was rescheduled to 29 August 2020. Some sporting leagues cancelled seasons and others decided to play on but without crowds, some like the Australian Football League moved all their games to areas less affected by the pandemic. One of the things I found very unsettling was watching some sports where there was no crowd allowed but they had put canned applause sounds in place since there's something jarring about seeing no audience but hearing crowd noises.
Perhaps the sporting event with the most absurd example of disruptions and canned applause was the 2020 World Snooker Championship.
This event wasn't played at the normal time of year, due to the pandemic the event was looking like it was going to be cancelled. The postponement of the 2020 Olympics left a big gap in the TV scheduling which led to an opportunity for a televised World Snooker Championship to go ahead. This tournament being quite long made for a good filler of the Olympics gap in the TV schedule. The very first day of the event had people in the audience but in limited numbers but an update to the rules and regulations in the UK meant that day 2 had no crowds allowed. The event still went on but with no crowds. I can't remember exactly when this started but someone had the idea of having canned audience applause that would play over the speakers at the event venue, this wasn't just something for the TV crowds.
The recorded audience applause was played through a speaker in the venue, then recorded again for the TV broadcast, it sounded not at all natural. For some other televised sporting events the audience sounds were added in post-production and sounded much more natural. The sounds at the Crucible Theatre, where the Snooker Championship was held just didn't sound right and not just because there wasn't anyone in the audience coughing (something that if you watched this event any other year you would have noticed). Not only was the applause not quite right in terms of timing or in proportion it also didn't sound like real applause either due to the recoding. Very weird stuff. This actually surprised some of the players as you can see in this video:
They didn't tell the players they were doing this and I just love the bemused reaction in the video by Ronnie O'Sullivan the first time the fake applause comes up. If you did eventually get used to the weird canned-applause1 you were in for another shock because the situation changed during the event and audiences were allowed back in again for the final. The final was a in front of a reduced - but real - audience which again made me think back to just how fake the canned-applause was in the earlier days. I was also reminded of there being no coughing, but this was because they'd kick anyone out who was coughing due to the pandemic concerns.
While canned applause and crowd noises were used in many other sporting broadcasts nothing topped the unnatural timing combined with the completely fake sounding applause used at the 2020 World Snooker Championships. While this is a relatively insignificant event in the perspective of the events of 2020 I figured it was worth writing about as it might be a cultural curiosity in the future for someone looking back at what life was like in 2020.
Ronnie O'Sullivan went on to win the event, the lack of a crowd during the tournament appeared to be in his favour as he claims the crowd adds more pressure on him overall. ↩