IMPACT OF COVID ON SPORTS AND GAMES
COVID has put the world in a state of a fatal pandemic. It has put many countries in a state of lockdown and affected sports events very badly. Olympics 2020 and local professional football leagues (governed by the Hong Kong Football Association) were ultimately postponed after the outbreak of the pandemic. It was done so because the large spectating crowds are well known to be infectious hazards and increase the transmission risk of COVID for the spectators and on-field players.
The WHO recommended to avoid human to human contact and maintain social distancing to control the pandemic. This led to wear a face mask during outdoor activities. The number of cases and affected countries is still increasing day by day. This has shown that the transmission rate of this COVID pandemic is higher than that of SARS which was outbroken almost two decades ago. impact of COVID on sports has caused the majority of sports events to be canceled or postponed.
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) firstly decided to postpone the UEFA Champions League Final and other games on March 23, 2020, as many professional athletes were tested positive for COVID. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) rescheduled the Tokyo Olympics to July 2021 while named Tokyo Olympics 2020. Sports were postponed to avoid the city crowd as the main reason for transmission of COVID is the crowd at public places.
Hong Kong Premier League (HKPL) is the top professional football league in Hong Kong. They start their season in August or September while other Asian leagues start their season in February or March. It has made Hong Kong Premier League the first professional football league to be postponed on January 28, 2020, due to the outbreak of COVID in Asia.
The risk of spreading pandemic during sports activities was increased because of direct physical contact such as face-to-face contact, checking, and tackling. Sports activities usually require getting together of people for an extended period, participating in practices, putting on and removing uniforms and other equipment, sharing transportation to and from sports activities.
Heavier breathing during games, practices, yelling, and spitting may release respiratory particles that contain the infectious virus and thus transmission of COVID may occur. Due to this reason, sports were postponed or canceled during 2020.
Later on, Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) decided to conduct its annual cup competition during which sixteen cup matches were played from February 11 to February 29 behind closed doors of the HKFA training center. The regular matches of HKPL were resumed in Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground on March 7, new measures against COVID were taken. Some of them were; limitation of the number of personnel to 180 in the stadium, all personnel were required to submit their health report, meeting rooms were arranged for players instead of changing rooms. At a time, only 9 players were allowed to use the changing room to avoid the chance of direct physical contact and they were not allowed to shower after games as shower mist is a transmission medium of the virus. Surgical face masks were made necessary to wear and handshaking during games was discouraged. With these strict rules, 10 leagues and matches were held and then HKFA ultimately stopped the matches due to the rapid outbreak of COVID in Hong Kong. A staff member of HKPL was tested positive for COVID as his life partner was tested positive for this infection. The risk of spread of this pandemic during football games was decreased by avoiding physical contact.
Tokyo Olympics are also postponed due to the outbreak of COVID. International athletes and support staff of the Olympics is being tested every day. Though International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials expect 80% of athletes will be vaccinated but they are not vaccinated yet.
More than 90 people associated with the Games have tested positive so far, including British athlete Amber Hill has withdrawn from the women’s skeet competition. All spectators were banned in Tokyo after the declaration of an emergency on July 8, 2020. Still, there has been no decision made that either the spectators will be able to attend the Paralympics or not.
The head of the World Health Organization said; “Show what can be done with the correct COVID safeguards” The final impact of COVID on sports and exercise has not been determined yet. However, the information about COVID may be helpful for the athletes and other governing committees to move forward with safety. COVID is highly transmittable during the games as physical contact cannot be avoided during sports and games. The transmission reasons of COVID include the viability of the COVID virus, long incubation period, and other symptoms during physical contact. The preventive measures are wearing a face mask, avoiding direct human-to-human contact, and practicing proper personal hygiene. As during sports and exercise, close contact is unavoidable, athletes should take these measures seriously to minimize unnecessary infection. The decision to resume the sports is correlated to the local number of cases and strict infection measures are needed to be implemented for the safety of spectators and athletes. Exercising with a surgical facemask must be compulsory for the athletes. Sports and exercise are important for competitive athletes but still, their safety must be the priority. Everyone should practice safe exercise with proper preventive measures to avoid transmission of the COVID pandemic.