6 Netflix sports documentaries that are worth watching

With no live sports, these might help pass the time

These are strange times to be a sports fan. While there’s usually some kind of live action to watch somewhere in the world, the coronavirus crisis has led to the postponement of almost every major league in the planet. For the first time in decades, the constant background noise of matches and analysis has been silenced.

But fear not. While there’s no new live sport to tune into, there are plenty of ways Netflix can help you scratch that itch. Whether you’re looking for documentaries about football or Formula 1, or the finest sports dramas, We have assembled a league table of the best action you can watch on Netflix.

We can’t get the games and races restarted, but we can bring the thrill of sport back to your living room.

Sunderland ’Til I Die

It’s all very well making documentaries about champion superclubs like Manchester City (Amazon’s All or Nothing) and Juventus (Netflix’s First Team). But for most football fans, the beautiful game is defined as much by the losses as the victories. That’s a big reason why this trip behind the scenes at perennial underachievers Sunderland feels so relevant – whether you’re a Black Cats fan or not.

The timing couldn’t have been better, as the two seasons give you front row seats for relegation from the Championship, and the subsequent play-off agony after a season in League One. Fair play to Sunderland for letting the cameras in, because this warts-and-all doc doesn’t always make the club look good.

Last Chance U

You can hire the best writers, directors and actors around, but sometimes the best stories are found in real life. Four seasons in, Netflix’s documentary series about American football teams at US community colleges remains home to some of the most compelling drama on TV.

The focus is on the players who nobody else wanted, full of potential on the field, but often prevented from realising it on the field by their difficult backgrounds. Yes, that sometimes plays out in the uplifting sports movie cliché of a team defying the odds. But just as often the players’ issues get the better of them and everything goes wrong. Hollywood should watch and learn.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive

Here’s your chance to relive the 2018 and 2019 Formula 1 seasons at much closer quarters than ever before. With Netflix cameras granted unprecedented levels of access to the pit lane, this documentary series is as much about what happens off the track as on it.

Mixing race action, interviews and tantalizing glimpses behind the scenes, Drive to Survive follows drivers, teams and management as they negotiate the globe-trotting circus that is F1. As impressive as Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen’s driving feats are, it’s soon clear that what’s going on beneath the bonnet is the real star of the show.

Icarus

The Lance Armstrong doping scandal rocked world cycling. It also inspired documentary filmmaker and amateur cyclist Bryan Fogel to embark on an audacious experiment to see if he could beat the testers.

After meeting leading Russian anti-doping expert Gigory Rodchenkov, however, Fogel found himself taking on a key role in exposing the scale of state-sponsored doping in Russian sport. While the original focus of his Oscar-winning movie was totally transformed, Fogel still manages to skilfully weave together several disparate narratives into a compelling real-life drama – even as he becomes an integral part of his own story, testifying in front of the enforcers at Wada.

Maradona in Mexico

Footballing legend Diego Maradona (and past subject of Asif Kapadia’s excellent documentary, Diego Maradona) attempts to save the Dorados, a bottom-place Mexican team based in Culiacán, Sinaloa, which has the stigma of being a cartel hot spot. If you know anything about Maradona’s career, you’ll understand how he’s the perfect documentary subject. Put this on your watch list.

A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story

A recent Netflix addition, this documentary focuses on the Argentine F1 legend Juan Manuel Fangio, and his amazing career at a time where safety wasn’t exactly paramount in Formula One racing. A Life of Speed tries to explore why so many drivers decided to risk their lives doing it anyway. Well worth checking out if the virtual Grand Prix isn’t enough for you.