As the decade comes to a close, The McGill Tribune looks back in chronological order on 10 of the most impactful moments in sports that helped shape athletics and the world. From incredible upset victories to social movements, the 2010s will go down as a decade to be remembered.
LeBron James’s “The Decision” (2010)
With all of LeBron James’s spectacular on-court play over the last 17 years, it’s hard to believe that his most impactful moment happened in an ESPN TV studio. LeBron announced his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat on live television, a controversial move in the moment, and one that has only increased in significance since. He succeeded in changing the public’s perception of athletes from just players to actual people with their own difficult choices to make. His decision made it acceptable for athletes to change teams and market themselves, and it kindled the flame for what eventually became the player empowerment era. Since then, athletes have seized control and taken their careers and voices into their own hands, making for a more lively and interesting world of sports.
Waka Waka by Shakira (2010)
When South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2010, it was not only the first one in Africa, but also the event that resulted in the release of one the most iconic songs and dances ever recorded: “Waka Waka.” Performed by Shakira and South African band Freshlyground, “Waka Waka” got children and adults alike doing the fabulous dance, which almost anyone who watched the 2010 World Cup will know. The single has nine-time platinum status in Sweden and has reached well beyond the host nation, tournament winners Spain, and Shakira’s home country of Colombia. While soccer was hardly niche before the 2010 World Cup, “Waka Waka” helped propel the sport firmly into popular culture.
National Women’s Soccer League is established (2012)
The founding of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was a truly monumental occasion in US soccer history. The league, now heading into its ninth year, has already outlasted its predecessors by several seasons and has become an established heavyweight in the world of professional women’s soccer. The success of the NWSL has coincided with that of the US women’s national team, who won the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cups.
The NWSL has helped women’s soccer viewership continue to rise across the US. 2019 saw the league register a total attendance of 792,409—a 111 per cent increase from its inaugural 2013 season. The rise in popularity has also helped expansion efforts: In 2021, the league will welcome its 10th franchise.
Lance Armstrong is stripped of his titles (2012)
From 1999 to 2005, the world of cycling was dominated by Lance Armstrong, an American who won an unprecedented seven Tours de France in a row. It seemed too good to be true, and it was: In 2012, Armstrong was stripped of all seven Tour de France victories in what was perhaps the largest performance enhancing drugs (PED) scandal of all time. As early as 1998, Armstrong had been using PEDs, and in 1999, his entire team reportedly also practiced blood doping. In the following years, Armstrong used increasingly deceitful practices to avoid tests and win at all costs, including bribery and extreme evasive measures. In the years since this discovery, the Cycling Union has disavowed Armstrong and made efforts to distance themselves from further scandals by cracking down on PEDs.
Germany defeats Brazil 7–1 in the World Cup Semifinal (2014)
At the 2014 World Cup, Germany shocked the world by defeating host nation Brazil 7–1. Germany went on to win the tournament, while Brazilian soccer was defined by the loss for the rest of the decade. An Olympic gold medal for Brazil two years later barely softened the blow. Germany played well in the semifinal, but Brazil was disgraceful the entire game, and they found themselves down by five goals in the first 30 minutes. Brazil came into the tournament as both the favourites and the host nation, and their collapse cemented this match as one of soccer’s greatest upsets ever.
Leicester City wins the Premier League (2016)
In one of the most unlikely triumphs in the history of team sports, Leicester City Football Club won the Premier League title for the first time ever. Leceister came into the season more concerned with avoiding relegation to the second-tier league than their 5,000-to-one odds of winning the league; they left having defeated some of the biggest names in European football. Since its formation in 1992, only six other teams had won the English Premier League, all with enough money to blow smaller club teams like Leicester out of the water. Leicester accomplished this incredible feat with exceptional scouting, an emphasis on a team-first mentality, and a counter-attacking style of play with an exceptional defence. This victory against all odds will go down as perhaps the most surprising moment in English football.
Kaepernick kneels to protest the oppression of people of colour (2016-17)
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested police brutality and racial inequality by taking a knee during the US national anthem in the 2016-17 NFL season. By the 49ers’ final preseason game, Kapernick’s teammate Eric Reid was kneeling alongside him. Every week, more and more players joined the protest. The backlash from football fans, professional athletes, politicians, and the general public was vicious, including calls for dismissal and even death threats. Kaepernick continued to kneel and speak out, however, and donated more than one million dollars to causes such as Mothers Against Police Brutality, Meals on Wheels, and many other community-supporting organizations. Kaepernick became a free agent after the 2016-17 season and has been unemployed since.
The Nigerian women’s bobsled team competes in the Winter Olympics (2018)
In 2017, the Nigerian women’s bobsled team, comprised of Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga, qualified for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, racing on their sled Maeflower. In addition to being the first African bobsled to compete at the Olympics, the team was the first ever Nigerian delegation to attend the Winter Olympics. The team was founded after raising $75,000 through a crowdfunding campaign, which they used to convince the Nigerian government to create the Bobsled & Skeleton Federation of Nigeria, later attracting Visa as a sponsor. Onwumere, one of the two brakewomen, carried the flag for her country at the opening ceremony. Although the team finished last in their event, they were proud to bring Nigeria to the Winter Olympics and bobsledding to Nigeria.
Tessa and Scott become the most decorated Olympic figure skaters of all time (2018)
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir stole Canada’s collective heart when they won ice dance gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. At the time, Virtue and Moir were just 20 and 22 years old, respectively. Over the course of the decade, the duo has continued to wow audiences and judges across the world. Their successful competitive career culminated in winning ice dance gold again in the team and individual events at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. This win made them the most decorated Olympic figure skaters in history, with three gold and two silver medals across three Olympic Games. Canadians will forever remember their final free dance to a medley of the Moulin Rouge soundtrack that melted everyone’s hearts all over again.
US Gymnasts speak out, team physician Larry Nassar convicted of sexual assault (2018)
One of the most well known cases in the #MeToo movement was the testimony of 156 women, many of whom were current or former members of the United States Women’s Gymnastics team, against sports physician Larry Nassar. Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in prison for sexual assault of minors as a result. Olympic gold medallists Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, and Simon Biles were among those who testified against Nassar, sharing their stories of how his abuse affected their lives and athletic careers. The bravery of these women will hopefully shed light on the prevalence of the issue and show that abusers must be held accountable for their actions. As Raisman said in her testimony, “We are a force, and you Larry, are nothing.”