A dim photo of a basketball ring which reveals uncertainty regarding sports in times of the pandemic.

Sports in the World of COVID-19

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption to many aspects of our everyday lives. First identified in Wuhan, China in December of last year, it was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern the following month.

Since then, it has grown into a worldwide pandemic, claiming thousands of lives and upending everything from education to the economy. Unsurprisingly, sports was among the hardest hit industries. With several events, both domestic and international, being either pushed back or cancelled altogether, sports has suffered a major setback on an otherwise upwards rise in popularity.

For many people, sports was actually one of the main reasons they began to realize that COVID-19 was unlike everything they have experienced before. In America, the news that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the disease in early March 2020 was the heralding sign for what was to come. Soon after, the 2019-2020 season of the NBA (National Basketball Association) was suspended.

The news that Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 opened the eyes of many Americans and NBA fans to the reality of the pandemic. Image credit: upnewsinfo.com (2020).

As cases began to pile up, other major leagues began to postpone or suspend their events. In the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak, popular sporting events, the 2020 Major League Baseball season and events sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) among them, were either suspended indefinitely or cancelled outright.

Here in the Philippines, several interschool and inter-college competitions had either been postponed, cancelled or altered as well, notable examples being NCAA Season 95 and the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 82. In the international scene, the most notable announcement was the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics to July 2021, the first time an Olympiad had been postponed in modern Olympic history.

A photo of the Olympic Rings during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Six years later, a first in modern Olympic history took place when the 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed. Image credit: Al Bello | Getty Image

In the early months of COVID-19, when most of these disruptions took place, it seemed as if all was lost. The pandemic, after all, has caused one of the most severe setbacks in the sports industry since the Second World War. However, before becoming upset that your favorite sports broadcasts had stopped or that you could no longer play sports like you used to, it is important to note the reasons behind why the industry ultimately reached these decisions.

The primary reason why so many sports events were cancelled is to contain and limit the spread of COVID-19. Popular events, like the NBA and the Olympics, typically involve thousands of participants, staff and fans who are all interacting within a relatively small area. With all of these people coming and going, it becomes hard for officials to completely monitor the continuous flow of people entering and leaving venues. This, combined with packed crowds typical in large sports events, becomes a hotbed for the spread of the virus. COVID-19 is transmitted from person to person through the respiratory route when an infected person talks, sneezes, or breathes. The particles then travel through the air and have the chance to infect others who are in close approximation. This is why continuing to hold sporting events as they are is dangerous, as those in attendance could become infected and, in turn, pose a threat to their respective families and communities.

So, what could be done?

After reaching decisions on halting many sporting events, officials now turn to face the problem of how to restart them. This is a difficult task, as they have to meet certain specifications such as making the event safe for all those involved while also making sure not to take too long lest fans would lose interest. Many leagues have opted to slowly begin reopening processes in the latter half of 2020, bringing in new security measures and health protocols to ensure the safety of all those involved.

In events like the NBA, games were played in isolation zones to protect the players and staff who were on site. All necessary games were played without any audience in the stands, players stayed in accommodations on site, and strict social distancing measures were observed. Games without an audience became a fixture of many events during the pandemic, where the only people in the venue were the players and a skeleton crew of personnel and staff. In lieu of physical attendance, many of these events were instead broadcasted live on television and social media.

In addition to maintaining strict health protocols in between games, many players also opt to use personal protective equipment such as masks. Image credit: Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

It’s not just the big leagues. Several players have also reached out and continued their interactions with fans online, posting updates through their social media platforms and starting charity drives for COVID-19 victims. New forms of competitions have also popped up, mainly utilizing the Internet and having participants competing from home.

This shows how in spite of the predicament COVID-19 has placed sports in, those with a passion for it are still finding ways to remain active in their respective sports while also modelling correct health measures and social distancing.

So before you sit down and complain about why your favorite sports don’t really feel the same way they did before, think about how the changes that the industry had to make has potentially saved thousands of lives, while also bringing about new and interesting ways to continue playing while also following the new rules that health organizations have set in place.

Most of all, remember that even in this new normal, sports will strive to continue in one way or another, and that if we want to experience the thrills and excitement of previous sports events once more, we must comply with the protocols and announcements made by the proper health authorities.

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