covid19 · fitness · team sports

Sports and risk during COVID-19

In early/mid March 2020, all sporting events came to a screeching halt. No more college sports, pro sports, annual tournaments or races. No more kids’ sports leagues. No more swimming at the local pool. But sporting fans and participants around the globe will not be denied for long, and they are getting impatient.

Whether or not some reopening process for some particular sport in some location is prudent is hugely important. Lots of sports associations, government agencies and community groups (and sports franchise lobbyists) are working on putting together guidelines for returning to athletic activity. In early May, the Italian government released a 404-page report (in Italian) on “Safely Restarting Sports” (Lo sport riparte in sicurezza). You can find parts of the document here. It’s super-detailed, identifying dozens of features that affect the riskiness of sporting activity. Here are some of them:

  • how many athletes are playing?
  • are the groups consistently playing together or randomly put into groups?
  • Where is the play happening– outside, inside, how big a space inside?
  • What sort of physical contact is necessary, and what sort of contact can be avoided?
  • What sorts of equipment are necessary, and who has how much contact with it?
  • What sort of activity is happening– conditioning, skills lessons, training drills, scrimmage, game?
  • Who else other than the athletes is in potential contact (e.g. coaches, spectators, facility staff, other persons)?

In this document, there’s an analysis of various basketball activities. They are broken down into risk categories (1–8) and then there’s a table showing the activity (e.g. warmup exercises, fundamentals drills, game), its description, its level of risk, and ways to mitigate the risks (generally through sanitation, individual protection, curbing contact, etc.).

So, do we have reliable information about specific sports? Uh, maybe. This news article (the Dubrovnik Times) reported on sports that the report deemed safer:

Reportedly, sports that offer almost no possibility of spreading the infection are sailing, open water swimming, golf and tennis.
As for tennis, it also has rules that recommend that tennis players wear goggles and gloves and that each player has their own balls at the service.

As for collective sports, water polo, which is in category two, has the lowest risk of spreading the virus, with the explanation that water polo is played in chlorinated water, which can disable the virus.

Football is placed in category three, while rugby, basketball, volleyball and handball are in the “most endangered” category four, as are all martial arts.

I’m cycling this summer, and buying a kayak this month so I can get out on the water. I do own a tennis racket, so maybe that will be in my summer plans as well. No yoga studio classes are in the offing any time soon, but zoom yoga has some virtues (among them that all classes take place in my living room).

Readers, what physical activities are you doing or contemplating doing this summer? What are you returning to? What are you substituting for activities you’re not doing? I’d love to hear from you.

p.s. the phrase at the top of the article, “Ognuno protegge tutti” means “each one protects everyone”. I like that.

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