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WHO detailing a return to sport

May 12, 2020

Sheldon Longley


Sport has been one of the hardest hit commodities from the ravaging effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sports world has been on hold for about eight weeks. Major leagues have ceased activities, events have been postponed or canceled, seasons have been suspended or canceled altogether, and team gatherings have been prohibited. With coronavirus numbers continuing to rise worldwide, one can only wonder when sports will return to an appreciable degree.

It’s been frustrating for athletes, coaches, sports administrators, spectators and sports personnel worldwide, but there does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released an “interim guidelines” report, detailing a gradual and systematic return to sport, stating that the guidelines will be reviewed and updated as the pandemic evolves.

Some of the key considerations listed in the report are: there sports that could be considered a lower or higher risk; the size of the event; the presence of an indoor or outdoor facility; and demographics and risk communication.

The report outlines that organizers should consider lower risk sports where physical distancing is possible for athletes, coaches and spectators; the absence of spectators and support staff altogether thereby holding events in closed stadia; the ventilation of facilities; no designated seating positions; ensuring that facilities comply with WHO and national recommendations; the age and health of participants, support staff and spectators; and ensuring that public health advice is available before and during the event.

The WHO is recommending daily health checks; physical distancing of competitors, officials, spectators and support staff; thorough disinfection and cleaning of seats, equipment and facilities; the prohibition of equipment sharing; conducting sporting events with designated seats with widely spaced spectators adhering to physical distancing; numbered seats for contact tracing; temperature monitoring at entrances; the presence of an isolation room/space to accommodate any symptomatic person found at the venue while awaiting patient transport to a medical facility; having designated personnel on site to help access cases; and displaying signs to inform spectators and support staff about ways in which they can prevent themselves from getting infected with COVID-19.

The report detailed additional recommendations for organizers, separate recommendations for participants, particularly those who are more likely to perform considering the qualifying aspects of specific competitions, and also recommended the use of sports ambassadors to promote messaging.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to keep themselves and others healthy and contribute to a successful event,” the report stated. “The WHO continues to monitor the situation closely for any changes that may affect this interim guidelines report.”

One of the first leagues to return to regular play and competitive physical activity, albeit with no fans in attendance, was the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) League in South Korea.

Also, in mixed martial arts, UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) 249 took place in Jacksonville, Florida, over the weekend. NASCAR is set to resume its auto racing schedule and various sporting leagues and independent bodies have staged virtual meetings, forums and activities online with a promise of a resumption of activity.

With the WHO detailing guidelines and mapping out a chart for a possible return to sport, it appears that the popular pastimes of basketball, baseball, football, athletics and others, may be sooner to a return to action rather than later. One of the greatest fears of sports fans the world over is that the whole of 2020, and maybe some of 2021, may be lost.

Sport is defined as competitive physical activity through casual or organized participation to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoyment to participants, and in some cases, entertainment for spectators.

Now, despite the ongoing presence of COVID-19, the resumption of sporting activity worldwide may be imminent.

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