TikTok, Toilet Paper and Fantasy Betting: What keeps bored athletes busy?

By: New York Times |

Updated: March 24, 2020 12:54:18 pm

Sydney FC’s Adam Le Fondre celebrated his goal by applauding an empty stadium. (Source: A-League)

by Victor Mather

Another Monday, another week of global pandemic news, social distancing, political wrangling and no sports.

Well, it depends how you define “sport” in this brave new world. Athletes have gotten creative as they try to stay healthy and fill their days.


Star athletes, they’re just like us. Really bored.

Back during the 1918 flu pandemic, we had no way of knowing what Babe Ruth or Jack Dempsey were up to in their spare time. Thanks to social media, we do now.

Barcelona centre back (and Shakira’s partner) Gerard Piqué would have been expecting to play in a home game against Leganés over the weekend. Instead, he was bouncing a roll of toilet paper off the edge of his tennis racket as many times as he could. He got to 20. How many can you do? Let’s be honest, you’ve probably got the time.

A variant is the Toilet Roll Challenge, in which players use their feet to keep a roll in the air. As you might expect, Lionel Messi does it with some flair. JaVale McGee also got in on the kicking action but with a faked animated toilet roll.

Let’s credit Messi also with some constructive non-toilet-paper-related activity. He is one of two dozen players involved in a World Health Organization campaign to push best practices to fight the coronavirus. “Avoid touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose or mouth to prevent the virus from entering your body,” he says. Hmm, pretty basic advice, but we’ll take it over the tip from the president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, who said, “We need teamwork to combat the coronavirus.”

READ | Football is a habit but habits can be broken

Of course, this all raises a question: Where did they get their hands on toilet paper?

Giannis Antetokounmpo is clearly not a professional guitarist, but he managed to pluck out “Smoke on the Water” to pass the time. Also, LeBron James did a TikTok dance. He certainly can’t play basketball in Hudson County, New Jersey, where they are removing all the rims.


What can you still bet on? The burgeoning U.S. sports gambling market, in which bettors were finally allowed to wager five bucks on a basketball game, has found the new privilege cruelly torn away.

On Monday morning at betting company Betfair, much of the money was on long-term events that will (probably) be contested: the 2022 World Cup (Brazil is a slight favorite over France; the United States is 120-1); Euro 2020 — now Euro 2021 (England, Belgium and France); and the NBA championship (the Los Angeles Lakers, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers).

READ | With live sports gone, announcer offers play by play of the everyday

Some bookies are posting “fantasy spreads,” odds on events that are probably not going to happen. SportsBetting.ag has odds on all seven hypothetical games in a Bucks-Lakers NBA Finals matchup (it says the odds on Bucks-Clippers would not be far off those). Game 1 would be Bucks at home by 4, for example. In Game 2, the Bucks would be favored by only 3 1/2.

Why the weird half-point difference? “The adjustment takes into account the expected ‘bounce-back effort’ from the Lakers, should they lose the first game of the series,” said Adam Burns, odds manager at SportsBetting, ag. “Bettors have traditionally backed the losing team of Game 1 in the second game.” In the hypothetical games in Los Angeles, the Lakers are favorites by 1 to 1 1/2 points.

Or you could turn all the cancellations into a wagering opportunity. When will the first NBA game be played, before or after July 1? After is the favorite, at 3-5, with before at 5-4. That’s about a 60-40 edge in favor of no games until July at least.

READ | Denny Hamlin wins virtual Homestead as NASCAR races again


Australia, the last major holdout, plugging away with its major team sports in front of empty stadiums, has finally given up, shutting down soccer, rugby and even Australian rules football.

The soccer lineup for this week is down basically to Myanmar — congrats to Hantharwady United for its 4-2 victory over Zwekapin United — and our reliable friends in Belarus, who show no signs of stopping. Don’t miss the Minsk derby Saturday morning.

The 2020 Olympics may be in peril of not occurring on time, but the torch relay continues — only there will now be no passing of the torch. Some relay. Sounds like an American 4×100-meter team.

READ | In poll, track and field athletes favour postponing the Olympics

And last week we urged you to make those Baku Ramada reservations, since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on June 7 was to be the start of the Formula One season. That was short-lived. You may want to switch to the Ritz-Carlton, Montreal, as Baku has been canceled, and the season will start June 14 in Canada.


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