Talks to get top-level sport back up and running during the COVID-19 have been going on for some time, but is it really possible for contact sports like football, rugby and Australian Rules to really take place in a safe environment?
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While there have been some sports still taking place during the almost worldwide shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic, some have still managed to continue. Football in Belarus and Nicaragua continued to be played, while table tennis, some forms of tennis and darts from the homes of the players gave sports fans something to watch. Australian horse racing also kept the shutters open.
The vast majority of sports have been out of action since March, however, although there have been some beginning to restart including the K-League football in South Korea, horse racing in France and now Germany’s Bundesliga, which will be the first major league to get back underway.
Plans are in place for British horse racing to start up again in June, for the Premier League to also get underway later that month along with La Liga football in Spain, Super Rugby in New Zealand, AFL football and NRL Rugby League in Australia. All of this will be behind closed doors for the safety of the fans and to prevent any unnecessary spread of the virus.
But the big question is how do you keep players themselves safe when the games do get underway again? How do they social distance and keep two metres away from a player? The short answer is they can’t – football, rugby and AFL are all contact sports. Nor can players really play 90 minutes of football with a mask on.
Where the safety element does come fully into effect is via the testing that will be done. Players will be tested regularly before and after games and any positive tests will result in teams being unable to fulfil games due to squads having to self-isolate. It’s a best-case scenario if things are to begin to restart.
The world does need to begin the steps onto a road to some sort of normality – albeit a new kind of normal – and the return of the Bundesliga will provide lessons for each of the other leagues and sports preparing to gets things started again.
While Super Rugby in New Zealand and AFL and NRL in Australia looks a much easier proposition, given how successfully both nations prevented a significant spread of the virus on their islands, the much higher rates of infections in Europe mean the return of sport could lead to a second spike – and among the players and staff involved in the game.