As COVID-19 Spreads, Is It Time To Put Sporting Events On The DL?
When scheduling sporting events, organizers have plenty of variables to consider. Team travel, rest days and venue availability are things that can all cause headaches but are relatively easy to find workarounds. A global pandemic is less malleable. As travel and public functions become more restricted due to the potential threat looming from a full-on outbreak of the coronavirus the International Olympic Committee and sports leagues around the world are starting to wrestle with what kind of disruptions may be on the horizon. The organizers of the Tokyo games scheduled for this summer are taking a wait and see approach. There’s not much surprise in this, considering the massive amount of money that Japan, the IOC, and their many corporate partners have poured into the event. The Olympics have only been canceled three times in the modern era, all because of world wars. So, to cancel the games due to an illness would be unprecedented. Even with Japan currently wedged between two of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 (China, South Korea), the IOC is still sticking with their plans for the games to begin in late July. The Japanese government appears to be less bullish about this whole mess just blowing over, however. The Japanese foreign minister said that the nation would be prepared to push the games to the end of 2020 if needed. While prudent, that would send ripples across the sporting world if implemented. Marquee sports such as soccer and basketball would find their best players in the middle of their domestic seasons, possibly taking them out of olympic competition unless some agreement could be reached. Certain outdoor sports would also run into issues. Surfing, for example, could see its debut shut down due to winter water conditions, and the thought of snow possibly blanketing the track in New National Stadium has to keep organizers up at night. It’s not just the Olympics having to draw up contingency plans for a health crisis without any tangible long-term scope. The coronavirus is currently sweeping through Italy, causing mass closings of schools until mid-march in an attempt to slow the virus’ spread. It was announced by the Italian government that all sanctioned sporting events, including their prized Serie A soccer league, will be played without fan attendance for at least the next month. Games will continue to be played, but the loss of gate revenue and the impact it will have on the economies of the areas surrounding these stadiums will be undoubtedly painful. Despite the possible economic issues, closing stadium doors isn’t a bad decision for a country dealing with at least 190 deaths and more than 3,000 cases of a disease that first appeared on their soil a month ago. The fewer opportunities for 60,000 plus people to spread their germs, the better in the long run. The question for other leagues around the globe is now this: Do they stay the course and plan for a short-term dent in their bottom lines (people voluntarily staying home and not traveling for sports) or do they really prepare to take steps like those seen in Italy? Do they possibly go even farther and fully postpone games for weeks or possibly for months as the virus spreads through the population? It is important to gauge if the risks outweigh the benefits. In all likelihood, the coronavirus outbreak is going to get worse as the virus became harder to contain. It’s our job, and the jobs of the people running major and minor leagues that criss-cross the globe, to gauge whether a Saturday spent in the stands is worth the potential risk to our well-being and the well-being of the people we come in contact with. In the United States at least, no one’s been forced into making a decision for everyone.
For now, the responsibility still falls on us. So, my advice? If you go ahead and see your favorite team lose a game, just make sure to wash your hands, don’t touch your face, & maybe don’t visit grandma for a week or two after attending Opening Day.