Should sporting events be part of COVID lockdowns? | News on the coronavirus pandemic

No handshake, no high-fives and no hugs.

It’s the norm for most people around the world since COVID-19 began to spread rapidly in early 2020 – but not for everyone, all of the time.

Almost every day, the familiar vision of footballers celebrating a goal, touchdown or buzzer flashes across TV screens, even as governments around the world continue to roll out containment measures in a bid to counter an upsurge in infections. .

No handshake? No high five? No hugs? That was not the case earlier this month when celebrations in the dressing rooms of British football teams drew criticism and re-launched calls for the sport to be included in the lockdown rules.

COVID-19 has so far killed more than 80,000 people in the UK, with cases and hospital admissions reaching an all-time high in recent weeks. The country also reported a new “highly contagious” variant that forced the government to impose tighter restrictions, but allowed elite sport to move forward, a move that has been hailed and criticized at the same time. time.

“I think the priority for governments should be grassroots sport and exercise and how it can stay operational rather than elite sport,” said David Goldblatt, sports writer, journalist and author at Al Jazeera.

Cricket Australia has reduced crowds in the stadium for the series against India [Loren Elliott/Reuters]

‘No time for complacency’

In the English Premier League, 221 positive cases among players have been reported since testing began in August.

A number of football matches have been postponed and football bosses have told players to “change their behavior”, warning them that “now is not the time for complacency” on protocols, including maintaining social distance.

The general manager of EFL, the second division of English football, recently said that it was’ more important than ever that all staff and players at the club closely follow the processes to avoid a suspension and the implications, including financial, associated with such a drastic price. action ”.

“Morally, with the situation we have in this country and in the world, to continue doing what we are doing is a bit of a strange feeling,” Arsenal football club boss Mikel Arteta said this month.

“We know what we can bring to society if we are able to do it in a safe way,” said Arteta, referring to the positive effects that supporters of the pursuit of sport have claimed to bring.

Football is not the only sport affected by the coronavirus.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics have been postponed for 12 months, with its fate still at stake. The Japanese government is firm that the Games will be held “even without making vaccines a condition”. But, in a survey by Japan’s Kyodo News agency this month, around 80% of those polled said the Olympics should be canceled or postponed again.

This is a view shared by Goldblatt who said: “The Tokyo Olympics should be canceled. International and global events should be halted for now. Crowds of all sizes just aren’t wise for the rest of the year. “

Meanwhile, the 2021 Women’s Cricket World Cup has been postponed for a year, and the 2020 Men’s World Twenty20 has also been postponed.

The Six Nations women’s rugby tournament suffered a similar fate, but officials are confident the men’s event will go ahead as planned in February.

Earlier this month, the Asian Beach Games in the Chinese city of Sanya were also postponed for the second time.

Currently, 72 tennis players and their coaching teams are forced to self-isolate for two weeks in their Melbourne hotel rooms after positive cases were reported on their inbound flights.

The cricket authorities for their part, in order to maintain the sport, have set up bio-secure bubbles for all players, officials and support staff where no contact with people outside this bubble will be allowed for the duration. tournaments or series.

However, that, in addition to the quarantine period for all arrivals, would be mentally exhausting and physically exhausting for cricketers.

Australian player Mitchell Starc said it was “not a sustainable way of life”.

“It’s tough,” Starc said. “We play cricket, we can’t complain too much. But in terms of the well-being of players, staff and officials, how long can you stay in the hubs? “

Indian captain Virat Kohli urged authorities to factor in the length of future tours given the time spent in these bubbles.

This has even been used as a reason when players’ performance on the field is below normal.

Pakistani head coach Misbahul Haq said that “the implementation of certain regulations has affected our athletes, both mentally and physically before an international series”, after his team were forced to extend their quarantine during the toured New Zealand after violations were captured by security cameras.

An NBA bubble last year that lasted nearly 100 days has been called a great “success.”

But Dr Yorck Olaf Schumacher, sports doctor at Aspetar, an orthopedic and sports medicine hospital in Qatar, said biosafety bubbles can be unmanageable and have negative effects on an athlete’s mental health.

“It is not practical. It looks very nice on paper, but it won’t work, ”Schumacher told Al Jazeera. “They could work for seven days. You can lock them, no problem. But after that it becomes very difficult. They will find ways to sneak in.

Schumacher, however, has given the green light for sporting activities, including top-level football, to take place amid lockdowns and restrictions.

“We have reliable data proving that outdoor sports like football pose a very low risk of spreading the coronavirus. Most transmission takes place outside of stadiums – social gatherings and families.

“If you have the measures in place, football is low risk. The transmission rate during games is very low. And even if they are affected, they are young, fit, and healthy, and while transmission is possible, they are unlikely to develop serious symptoms.

With the crowds returning to the stadium at various tournaments, it seems unlikely that a global sports stop is going to be set up anytime soon.

Allowing sporting events to take place – with protocols and controls in place – is worth the risk, given the “joy” it brings to those stranded, according to England footballer Charlie Austin.

“We bring joy to people. For people who are at home, who don’t work, ”Austin said. “If it comes off TV, it’s even more deadly and dark than what we are told in the news.”

However, as fellow England footballer Curtis Davies explained, it may seem like a ‘bittersweet’ moment.

“The regular football fan is social distanced out there. Hands, face, space and all that, ”Davies said. “Then there are the footballers – I know they’re in bubbles and trying to stick to the rules – who are very demanding and hug. It’s bittersweet for a football fan to watch.

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