Following the cancellation of last year's Aintree Grand National, the Jockey Club announced they would donate 10,000 tickets to NHS and social care workers for the opening day of the 2021 meeting.

But with Covid-19 still upending our lives in spite of the rollout of vaccines, it comes as no surprise that the donation will now be honoured, all going well, at the 2022 gathering on Merseyside.  

The best-laid plans may count for nought with the virus and all its mutations still circulating around us. The lights at the end of tunnel are the vaccines, and as more of us get the jab, the hope will be that a semblance of normality will return.

Sporting bodies have been grappling with trying to keep the show on the road since March of last year. Early on, some had to admit defeat, and so the Olympics, the Euros, the Ryder Cup and Wimbledon did not get to happen.

The scene inside the  Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl LV

All four are all scheduled, in some shape form, to take place in the months ahead. Whether crowds will be present, we don't know. Those who watched the Super Bowl last Sunday will have noted the added sense of occasion in having fans at a venue. In all, 25,000, as well as 30,000 cardboard cutouts, were present at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

The FAI are hopeful that fans will be back at the Aviva in September for the Republic of Ireland's World Cup qualifiers. That's six months away. Enough time, you would like to think, to again experience something that we took for granted pre-Covid.


The Olympic Stadium in Rome staged this year's Six Nations opener

The opening weekend of February saw the start of Six Nations. All going well it will finish on 20 March. The Easter weekend (2-4 April) could see the resumption of the Heineken Champions Cup. There is talk of a going to a straight knock-out stage, starting with a round of 16, and then progressing to the final in Marseille on 22 May. 

The 2021 Women's Six Nations Championship will begin in April under a revised format for the Covid-affected campaign.

Starting on the Easter weekend, this year's championship will see a condensed format, comprising two pools of three teams, with each team playing one home and one away fixture. Adam Griggs' Ireland will face Wales and France.

Once the pool round matches are complete, teams will face off against the opposing ranked team from the other pool in the play-offs matches, with first place in Pool A taking on the top-ranked side in Pool B and so on for the second and third spots.

The Irish women have not played competitively since 24 October last

The Women's World Cup will take place in New Zealand from 18 September to 16 October. No date as yet has been pencilled in for the European qualifier tournament Ireland will participate in, which no doubt is frustrating for all involved. 

Meanwhile the U20s Six Nations moves to June and July in a condensed three-week period. The tournament is expected to start on 19 June.

From late June until the first weekend in August, the Lions Tour is scheduled to take place in South Africa. However, the seriousness of the pandemic in South Africa has rendered a standard tour highly unlikely.

Alternatives mooted include a behind-closed-doors tour in the host nation or opting to stage the matches in the UK and Ireland.

Rugby Australia have offered to host the series. What's most unlikely is a postponement of the Tour to the summer of 2022.


The GAA, the LGFA and the Camogie Association have been informed that under the revised 'Living with Covid' guidelines to be issued in a fortnight, elite Gaelic games will no longer be allowed under Level 5 restrictions.

This means that a return to inter-county training or games is not permitted under the current restrictions, with the GAA Covid Advisory Group outlining that a return to on-field activity is unlikely to be allowed until Easter - first weekend in April - at the earliest.

So, any resumption of on-the-field activity is not likely until late April or early May.   

The news of an extended delay to the planned return of the inter-county season will have knock-on effects for both the inter-county and club games programmes originally planned for 2021. 

As of yet, the GAA has made no firm decisions on what competitions may or may not be facilitated in any revised fixture programme.

The All-Ireland football and hurling finals were originally pencilled in for July, and then August 

This year's GAA Congress at the end of the month will see motions up for grabs that could see changes to the format of the All-Ireland SFC. 

There appears to be a huge appetite for something different, with many inter-county managers backing a league-based championship to be played from the summer of 2022 onwards, with the provincial series running earlier in the year.

The other option ahead of Congress is to have four groups of eight play an All-Ireland series, with the league format retaining the same status.


Shamrock Rovers were crowned Premier Division champions in last season

The domestic soccer season will begin in just over a month, with the Airtricity League Premier Division beginning on 19 March, and the First Division and Women's National League getting going a week later. 

SSE Airtricity will continue as title sponsors of the League Of Ireland, and have extended their patronage to cover the Women's league for the first time. Bank of Ireland have come on board as associate sponsors, a tie-up that includes the FAI Cup.

The FAI unveiled €3.6m package to help the LOI in recent days, with the government promising to provide additional support to help clubs at the start of the season.  

In recent days, the pandemic has forced UEFA to relocate a number of Champions League and Europa League games.

Some clubs will be denied home advantage for the round-of-16 ties, but Europe's governing body are determined to get the games played and bring both competitions to a conclusion come the end of May. 

Will Dublin get to host games?

And then Euro 2020 awaits, which is due to begin on 11 June, with Italy hosting Turkey in Rome. The Eternal City is one of 12 host cities - including Dublin - that are set to stage tournament and UEFA, as of now, are pushing ahead with that scenario.

Other contingencies are in place, we are told. That number of 12 may be reduced and there is also talk of having just one host country.

A decision on what format the tournament will take should be known in April. 

Stephen Kenny will be looking for a change of fortune as he sends his Republic of Ireland side into World Cup qualification battle, with Serbia away the first assignment on 24 March. Qualifying ends in November.

The Republic of Ireland Women will know their opponents in their quest to make the 2023 World Cup on 30 April.


Rowing medallist Matthew Pinsent has suggested moving the Tokyo Olympics to 2024 after claiming it would be "ludicrous" to stage the Games in 2021 against the backdrop of a global health crisis.

Pinsent, a former member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), also believes Paris and Los Angeles should host the Games four years later than planned to accommodate Tokyo in his proposed reshuffle.

There is also a certain degree of disquiet in the host country as to whether the Olympics and Paralympics should go ahead. 

However, representatives from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic organising committee have said there were no doubts or objections from its partners, including the International Olympic Committee and sporting federations, about Japan hosting the rearranged Games this year.

Tokyo organisers are preparing for the Olympics, which are due to start on 23 July, against a backdrop of dwindling public support for the Games in Japan amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The organising committee's president Yoshiro Mori, after speaking with IOC President Thomas Bach, said he had received assurances from the German that Tokyo had the full backing of all Olympic stakeholders.

The latest news for athletes travelling to Tokyo is that they won't need to quarantine for 14 days on arrival as was initially feared.

The recently published International Olympic Committee Athlete Playbook states that athletes will only need to confirm a negative Covid-19 PCR test 72-hours before flying to ensure they can compete.

Athletes will be subjected to strict control measures to ensure their safety. This will include limiting the amount of time athletes and support staff stay in the Village, restrictions on socialising outside the Village, their movement between official Games venues, and a Covid-19 screening system that will see athletes and support staff screened during the Games.

Measures will also be in place to identify, isolate and treat any potential positive cases. 

The capacity of all press areas for the Games have been reduced by half. 

If events in Tokyo do go ahead, it will be an Olympics like no other. Some would say, soulless. Again, where the virus is at in a couple of months will ultimately shape what will happen in the Japanese capital. 


A view of Royal St George's 

Royal St George's, after missing out last year, will get its chance to stage The Open from 15-18 July. The R&A said it has "cautious optimism" that the 149th championship will go ahead.

It's Chief Executive Martin Slumbers is focused on "delivering a fantastic championship for the country and the world of golf." 

The plan is to stage a "full-scale championship" but contingencies are in place to host an event with limited capacity or one with no spectators present at all. 

It was November in Augusta in 2020, but the Masters returns to its rightful date in April, with the USPGA and the US Open to follow in May and June respectively. 

The Irish Open will take place at Mount Juliet from 1-4 July. 

And the end of September will see the rescheduled Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. 

Al Boum Photo after his 2020 triumph at Prestbury Park

Elsewhere, the Cheltenham Festival will be staged in St Patrick's week. It will be a far cry from 2020 when it was one of the last events where we saw spectators packed into stands. There will no roar from the crowds when the horses go up that famous 'Hill' in a few weeks' time. Willie Mullins' Al Boum Photo is seeking a hat-trick of Gold Cups on 19 March. 

The Irish and English Grand Nationals, along with the Punchestown Festival, which fell victim to the virus last year, will form part of April's sporting landscape. It too soon to say whether fans will be present for Galway's race week from 26 July to 1 August.

SW19 won't be as packed for this year's tournament

Wimbledon organisers are prioritising preparations for a reduced-capacity Championships from 28 June-11 July.

The grand slam was cancelled last year for the first time since World War Two because of the pandemic.

The Dublin Marathon, run as a virtual event on 2020, will be hoping that competitors will again be pounding the streets of our capital city on 24 October. Entries for last year's race remain valid. 

August will see the Dublin Horse Show at the RDS - another event that was absent from the 2020 calendar.