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The power of visuals in the era of pandemic: how sport stories can continue to be told

Olympic rower Polly Swann training at home during the coronavirus lockdown week seven on May 4, 2020 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Ken Mainardis, senior vice-president, global head of content, Getty Images

It has been almost two months since much of the world went into lockdown. In a non-Covid world, our sports team at Getty Images would be getting ready to head out to Tokyo now, packing up the final pieces of equipment and preparing to cover the biggest sporting event of the year.

We have been the official photographer to the International Olympic Committee since 1988, and covering the Games is always a highlight the team look forward to, its biggest challenge during the sporting calendar.

The sheer scale, the responsibility to capture the sporting moments where history is made and to continue to innovate new perspectives of familiar events, is the toughest but most rewarding assignment in sports photography.

A team must be close to rise to such challenges and the cancellation of sporting events is felt on an emotional level – more than just on a business level – by such tight-knit groups.

As they say though, necessity is the mother of invention. Whilst many professional sports events are still on hold, the need for leagues, clubs, brands, and individual athletes to remain connected and engaged with their audience is as important as ever. New and different forms of content are needed for our customers to help fill the gap which live events have left.

Luckily, our photographers are consummate storytellers who care about sport and, whatever the circumstances, are guaranteed to find creative ways of capturing engaging content.

I particularly love the way they have connected with athletes the world over to show how sporting professionals have adapted to training in isolation. Last month, using social distancing measures of course, we followed the Team GB rowers as they exercised in their homes. Images of the athletes working out on their balconies, creating a make-shift gym in their living rooms or rowing in their back gardens. Not just in the UK, but globally, we have been capturing the creative ways athletes are training. From fencers duelling with makeshift puppets to triathletes swimming in paddling pools and cross-fit athletes working out virtually.

What has also become apparent as this crisis unfolds, is the important role which history plays. Increasingly we are seeing people turning to the past in order to feel more connected to the present.

Many brands are looking to the past to remind fans of their long-term relationship too, in the same way that luxury brands are dialling up their heritage. You only have to scroll through social media in order to see the ‘look backs’ and ‘best of’ content being shared, as individuals reminisce on happier times. We are proud to have our archive at our fingertips, which has over 130 million images, and amongst them a wealth of sports stories. Our teams of editors have been busy digging through files, packaging up content in order to provide our customers with the inspiration and creativity to tell a variety of tales.

Whilst so many annual sporting fixtures may have dropped off the calendar, we can rely on history, via the archive, to continue telling their story. Curated sets such as celebrities who have attended Wimbledon provide a different way of keeping the tournament current and front-of-mind. The unique situation we find ourselves in has incentivised us to be even more creative in how we service our customers and find unique visual stories to help them connect with their audience. Content such as ‘Sports Icons Before They Were Famous’ or the Game Changers, celebrating the very best athletes, have proved to be hugely successful.

Ultimately, there can be no substitute for the adrenaline rush of watching a live match unfold. The shared passion – and connection which rooting for your favourite player brings – generates a special investment in professional sport.

For the 25 years we have been delivering sports coverage, I know, for our photographers, there is nothing which can replace the feeling of capturing that defining moment – the goal, reaction, trophy lift – when history shifts on its axis. The action-packed games are replaced by a waiting game, as we wait for sports administrators the world over to find ways of bringing pro sport back as quickly, safely, and creatively as possible. And until that happens, we will continue to deliver fresh, engaging, visual content to keep sport front-of-mind for all.

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