Donald Trump is a WWE wrestler

Corona crisis: Why wrestling and horse racing are "systemically relevant" in the USA

April is usually a month of sporting highlights in the United States. Above all, the playoffs in the NBA basketball league and the NHL ice hockey league ensure excitement and spectacle. There are also major league baseball and major league soccer games. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the arenas and stadiums in all leagues have been closed for six weeks - and the professionals at home.

Nevertheless, there is not a complete standstill. The sport still exists in the USA. No, not the canned one that is currently being broadcast on so many television stations, but real sport. Live, with lots of action - but without a spectator. Four-legged friends race on five horse tracks in Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Arkansas. And in the "Performance Center" in Orlando, well-trained musclemen sling, pushing and throwing themselves through the rope square.

Close contact in the ring instead of social distancing

This is where World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) produces its shows "RAW" and "Smackdown". At the beginning of the month, it was unlikely that the wrestlers would have a chance to beat each other in times of social distancing. Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis had announced that people should stay at home due to COVID-19 and only shops that are "systemically important" such as supermarkets, medical practices or gas stations are allowed to remain open. And Jerry Demings, Mayor of Orange County, where the "Performance Center" is located, emphasized a few days ago that WWE was "initially not considered a systemically important business".

Why the wrestlers are now allowed to pull off their shows caused a lack of understanding in many places in view of more than 28,000 positive tests in Florida - including a WWE player - and more than 900 corona deaths. Because the WWE is not threatened with bankruptcy. On the contrary: several US media reports that they have no relevant debts and that they have assets of around $ 500 million.

Sudden special status for WWE

Jerry Demings, Orange County Mayor

Jerry Demings attributes the sudden change of heart to conversations with DeSantis and other state officials. Eight days after the governor's "stay at home" order came the surprising addition that "employees of professional sports and media productions with a nationwide audience" would also be considered "systemically relevant" with immediate effect. In other words: the show performances of the bawling power blocks have, at least in the opinion of the highest-ranking politician, enormous importance for life in the Sunshine State of Florida. The only requirement: everything takes place behind closed doors.

Thus, the WWE, which according to strict TV contracts is not allowed to record the majority of its shows, but has to broadcast live, was able to broadcast as usual. The transmissions, DeSantis defended his decision, would only require a few employees on the ring, but at the same time could entertain many people on the television sets.

The Trump factor

Others, however, hold a million dollar donation for the real reason DeSantis' pace. And with this money, a man comes into play who makes the whole thing particularly explosive: Donald Trump. In autumn 2018, the US President strongly supported DeSantis in his governor's election campaign against the Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. Many attribute the fact that DeSantis narrowly won in the end to Trump as a decisive advocate.

The WWE has "publicly connected with President Trump and his party," criticized the daily "Orlando Sentinel". The reason for the excitement is a payment of 18.5 million dollars - just on April 9th, when DeSantis classified WWE as an "essential business". The donation was sent by the "American Action First PAC" - a political action committee for Trump. The head of this association is Linda McMahon, wife of WWE boss Vince McMahon and who was still chairwoman of Trump's "Small Business Administration" until last spring.

"The show must go on"

Vince McMahon, on the other hand, has been a close friend of the current US President for decades and even staged some of his wrestling events in Trump hotels. The showdown of the two in 2007 is particularly famous. At the "Battle of the Billionaires" Trump McMahon was allowed to shave a bald head in the ring after his wrestler had previously won against McMahon's actor. "This is still the most embarrassing moment of my life," said McMahon when he inducted "my friend Donald Trump" into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013.

Old friends: Vince McMahon (2nd from left) had Donald Trump (left) shave his head in the wrestling ring in 2007

Trump, in turn, has now appointed McMahon as an advisor to a team working on plans to get the US economy going again. The McMahon, of all people, whose American football league XFL went bankrupt last week and who laid off around 30 WWE employees a few days ago.

A billionaire McMahon motto is: "The show must go on." And so the WWE will also be broadcast live from Orlando next week. The WWE emphasizes that the athletes are concerned about their health. The criticism is still not decreasing. The WWE, according to the "Orlando Sentinel", has created a universe in which anything is possible. "However, the lines between wrestling and the real world become blurred when, out of greed for profit, the actions of billionaires endanger the livelihood and health of women, men and their families," the daily said.

Big business horse racing

Tampa Bay Downs Racecourse is just 170 kilometers west of the wrestling show stage. Here, too, there is sport these days, even here without a spectator. And here, too, there has already been a corona case. At the end of March, the Venezuelan Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, one of the most famous and successful in his field, tested positive - and at the beginning of April a groom even died of COVID-19 on the well-known track in Belmont Park, east of New York City. Nevertheless, the rider continues. Numerous races are scheduled for this weekend at Tampa Bay Downs. Because horse racing is big business. Millions are earned primarily through betting stakes - in Corona times, however, only online.

Whole days of racing continue to take place at the Tampa Bay Downs racecourse despite Corona

With only a handful of racetracks currently open across America, even those tracks that usually only attract local interest are becoming the focus of internet betting from across the country. For example Fonner Park in Grand Island / Nebraska. The season was originally supposed to end on April 29th. However, the state horse racing commission has agreed to allow twelve additional days of racing between May 4th and May 31st.

Season is extended

Since March 23, the competitions have been held without spectators. However, so that the Fonner Park does not have to duel with other racetracks for the favor and money of the bettors, only from Monday to Wednesday. According to the daily newspaper "Norfolk Daily News", betting income averaged around $ 2.8 million per day of racing during this period. With the additional races in May, the organizers hope to reduce the financial losses due to lost viewer income. But it is also clear to them: As soon as other racetracks are allowed to reopen, the competition will increase - and their own income will probably decrease again.