12 Apr 2021  |   04:38am IST

Pandemic curbs sporting activities, but are live telecasts relief for fans?

Pandemic curbs sporting activities, but are live telecasts relief for fans?

Apart from business, COVID has very adversely affected the field of outdoor sport. Be it football, cricket, hockey, etc, all field games now have a new protocol and worse, they have to play national and international matches before “no crowd” in the stadium, which were their major morale booster. The micro droplet transmits potentially fatal COVID virus which is affecting the world. The WHO recommended social distancing and human-to-human contact was discouraged to control the transmission. It has put many countries in a state of lockdown and sporting events, including the 2020 Olympics, have been affected. Participation in sports and exercises, whether in gyms or swimming pools, typically regarded as healthy activities, has also been debated.

The 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics were scheduled to take place in Tokyo starting July 24. It never happened. Although the Japanese government had taken extra precautions to help minimise the outbreak's impact in the country, qualifying events were being cancelled or postponed almost daily. The traditional Olympic flame lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece, to mark the start of the 2020 Summer Olympics torch relay was held on March 12 last year but it was without spectators. On March 23, 2020, Canada, Australia, and Great Britain announced that they would withdraw from the Games unless they were postponed for one year. On March 24, 2020, the International Olympics Committee and Tokyo Organising Committee announced that the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics would be “rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021”, marking the first time in the history of the modern Olympics that an Olympiad has been postponed. The opening ceremonies of the Games were officially rescheduled to July 23 this year. But with second wave of pandemic hitting all across, will it happen on the set date?

Back in India brave steps have been taken to ensure that sporting activities like ISL, IPL, etc are being initiated. But the question is whether it is for boosting the sport or economy or the morale of the already depressed populace that is too scared to step out of their homes? No persons are allowed inside the stadium where the match is being played, it is a rare sight. Even those who are sponsoring these events must be scratching their heads what and how to negotiate their “investment”.

In Hong Kong the local professional football leagues, governed by the Hong Kong Football Association, ultimately postponed all matches after much deliberation on the transmission risk for the spectators and on-field players. Large crowds attending these sporting events are well-known to be infectious hazards, but the infection risk for on-field players is less recognised. Besides watching professionals exercise, many people opted to hike in the countryside during the weekends to avoid city crowds. This led to a widespread discussion on the issue of wearing a facemask and frequent use of hand sanitisers during outdoor venture.

Undoubtedly the infection risk was high for the players performing on the field, even without spectators. The laboratory study to investigate the physiological effect of wearing a face mask in Hong Kong found that it significantly elevated heart rate and perceived exertion. Those participating in exercise need to be aware that facemasks increase the physiological burden of the body, especially in those with multiple underlying comorbidities.

Professional sportspersons, especially those training for the upcoming Olympics, need to balance and reschedule their training regime to balance the risk of de-conditioning versus the risk of infection. The multiple infection-control measures imposed by the Hong Kong national team training centre were highlighted to help strike this balance. Amidst a global COVID pandemic affecting millions, staying active is good, but staying safe is paramount. Which one, one should decide? It is a tough call for the sportspersons too. Yes, they cannot speak on this issue publicly as their short, very short career span will be at stake.

Events like Indian Super League (ISL) in football has finished and Indian Premier League (IPL) in cricket is now happening. Goa this week is hosting the AFC football matches. Certainly, it has helped the fans to stay indoors as they are not allowed to enter the stadium but to watch the game live on television. But is being couch potatoes, good for health and that too, to fight one of the biggest threat of this century, COVID pandemic?

Agree, it is difficult to decide on all parameters as this threat which has affected all and sundry on this planet is new and unknown. It is like a hit and trail protocols which are being devised. Why is it so? Is it because the economy needs to be rolling or else there will be a complete shut down and all will be left to fend themselves for survival individually. To avoid all such complexities, one has to individually be responsible and ensure that their individual laxity on not following the laid down protocols of wearing face mask and maintaining physical distancing, is not an impediment on their immediate neighbours and others.


Iddhar Udhar