It may not be an Olympic or World Cup year but 2017 promises to be another thrilling 12 months of compelling sports action. Ron Shillingford looks at some of the major sporting events coming up that will get worldwide attention.
Australian Open (Tennis): The opening year’s Grand Slam Australian Open becomes compulsive viewing as Andy Murray vies for his first title there after a series of disappointments to justify his recently achieved world No.1 ranking. Murray is a five-times runner up at the Australian Open and will have to topple Novak Djokovic, a five-times winner in Melbourne who is itching to get his world No.1 ranking back. Roger Federer is back from a long spell of injury and the much improved Stan Wawrinka are expected to be their major challengers.
In the women’s draw, world No.1 Angelique Kerber hopes to successfully defend her title, which she won last year with a stunning win over Serena Williams. Williams has won 22 Grand Slam title but had a rollercoaster 2016 by her standards and is determined to bounce back to her best.
African Cup of Nations (Football): Football’s improvement in Africa in the past two decades is reflected by the number of players from the continent now featuring in Europe’s big leagues. The African Cup of Nations has gained much more respect as a result. The 2017 staging is in Gabon from Jan.14 to Feb. 5 with 16 teams participating. The teams are divided into four groups of four – Gabon, Cameroon, Burkina Faso Guinea-Bissau ( Group A), Algeria, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Tunisia ( Group B), Ivory Coast, Togo, Morocco, DR Congo (Group C), Ghana, Uganda, Egypt, and Mali (Group D).
The tournament will feature a host of superstars such as Borussia Dortmund striker and the 2015 African Player of the Year Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Crystal Palace striker Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast), Leicester City’s midfield maestro Riyad Mahrez (Algeria) and Liverpool’s brilliant striker Sadio Mane (Senegal).
ICC Champions Trophy (Cricket): The ICC Champions Trophy, featuring the top eight ranked One-Day International teams will be held in England from Jun. 1-18. India will be looking to defend their title they won impressively in 2013 but Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka are capable of toppling them. England too have a chance. Sadly, West Indies, who are the world T20 champs, did not qualify. Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, and England are drawn in Group A, while arch rivals India and Pakistan, along with South Africa, and Sri Lanka are drawn in Group B. India have the likes of Ajinkya Rahane to rely on but every match between his country and Pakistan is always in the balance.
Rugby League World Cup (Rugby): The 2017 Rugby League World Cup, the 15th such staging is on between Oct. 26 and Dec. 2, co-hosted by Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Although Australia and New Zealand will start as firm favourites to win the tournament, with England likely to be captained by Sam Burgess in with a shout, an expanded format and the development of the international game with much improved emerging teams such as Japan, Fiji and Samoa make this tournament worth watching. The 2015 Rugby World Cup threw up some surprises and such is the nature of any rugby format, shock results are a great part of the appeal.
IAAF Championship (Athletics): The IAAF World Athletics Championships welcomes the greatest athletes from across the globe to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London from Aug. 4-13. This is Usain Bolt’s swansong as the greatest sprinter in history says goodbye in his last major tournament before retiring. Bolt is the main draw, but there are many other athletes to watch out for like Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 metres double gold medallist Mo Farah, the 400m world record holder South African Wayde van Niekerk and defending 800m champion David Rudisha (Kenya). Among the women athletes, the major rivalries to watch out for will be between two Ethiopians Almaz Ayana and Tirunesh Dibaba in the 10,000m, Alexon Felix (USA) and Shaunae Miller (Bahamas) in the 400m, and the 4x100m relay between the U.S. and Jamaica.