Participatory virtual sports apps have gone all-in during the coronavirus pandemic. They have been marketing heavily and engaging with an ever-growing number of real-world events. As with delivery apps, virtual meetings apps, streaming sites and to a lesser extent news content sites (like this one, we hope!), the pandemic has actually improved their market share over the real-world competition. This has been great for the apps, but is it great for sport?

Take cycling as an example. Of all sporting codes, who would have thought that cycling would have garnered the most attention through virtual eventing? Today’s (June 7) charity race featuring Chris Froome, Kevin Pietersen, Mel C and Darren Gough racing up a volcano – on the Zwift App – is a case in point. The race is being broadcast live on SkySports and will stream on the Zwift Youtube channel. Cycling’s only real competition (other than from e-sports of course, which we will consider separately) comes from running, with the gold-tier IAAF Cape Town marathon offering a virtual race as an option in 2020 – but in terms of races, it has been cycling which up until now have received all the attention.

“Its been incredible to see the uptake,” says Director of Podium Sports and manager/agent of some of South Africa’s top triathletes and cyclists, Nic Lamond. Lamond points to one morning early in South Africa’s lockdown period when Zwift South Africa apparently reported over 30,000 concurrent users on their app.

The Wheels for Heroes event comes just weeks after top international and South African cyclists hooked up to the Zwift app and raced the Cape Epic – South Africa’s top mountain biking race – virtually (story on the Epic’s website, here https://www.cape-epic.com/news/1277/tackling-the-untamed-african-mtb-race-online/ ).

Whether virtual apps are good for sports in general remains to be seen. We’ll be exploring this them in the coming week, checking in with sports professionals to get their opinion.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t had enough of Chris Froome – or Kevin Pieterson for that matter – this year, you can catch the race on Zwift’s Youtube channel. More on this exciting new (virtual) arena, soon, here on SPNA.