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Expert Opinion: Can live sports return before a COVID-19 vaccine is out?

NEW DELHI: “I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.” Those words of Albert Camus, from his novel ‘The Plague’, have returned to become extremely relevant, as the world fights a medical emergency of calamitous proportions — the COVID-19 pandemic. Saving lives has rightly taken precedence over every other perceivable thing, including sport that has come to a grinding halt like never before.

But in his same novel, Camus also wrote about continuing to fight in an endeavour to reclaim what you love the most. “Nothing in the world is worth turning one’s back on what one loves,” wrote the Nobel laureate in ‘The Plague’.

The fight for sport to come back, and everything else that has come to a stop due to the coronavirus, is similar.

But it’s not going to be easy. Still, though, efforts are being made for some sort of normalcy to return on the field of play. But is it possible at all with a COVID-19 vaccine still possibly years away? Won’t it leave athletes vulnerable against an invisible enemy? Will fans return to the stands like before? Will fans even be allowed to enter the stadiums? asked these questions to a host of sportspersons, former and current, as well as coaches and sports administrators.


Chief National Badminton Coach


“Tough times for sports and sportspersons, but in my opinion sports shouldn’t stop. I think with the limited travel and opportunity we have, we should try and slowly have clusters or local events which should take over, so that players get an opportunity to have competition and people should have an opportunity to watch sport. But in general, I think large crowd gatherings will be going out. So I think we should look at television and online mediums of broadcast to actually have the next level of sport. But I would love to see local sport grow in these times of restrictions.”


Five-time world chess champion


“I believe every sport must start planning ahead for when they can take place again. I don’t expect that to be for several months, but the sport must start planning ahead. There will probably be a period where sporting activity will be possible, but reduced. So there might be fewer events. People will have to make do with less. But it’s important to get the events started again. For the sportspersons, it is important that they are able to start competing again, and hopefully, in that case, the sport will be ready when the situation normalises fully.”

Olympic gold medal-winning shooter


“Sport can only make a comeback when authorities deem it safe. While there are ideas floating on resuming sport only for a TV audience, these too have complications, economic and safety-wise. The health of athletes and everybody involved in delivering a sporting event must be paramount and until that can be assured we must exercise a degree of patience.”

CEO, Hockey India


“It’s always best to have a positive outlook, no matter what the circumstances are. I believe sports is resilient and there is always a place for sports in the world and we are confident it will flourish again like everything else. Sport has always given the world positive stories of what willpower and ability to fight can do. It has the power to inspire millions of people world over. It is only a matter of ‘when’ actually. Until then, we just need to stay resolute and continue to find best ways to stay motivated and ready to start. Until then, we will continue to work within the guidelines provided by the Central Government and find ways to make best use of the current situation we currently face.”

Olympic bronze medal-winning shooter


“I really don’t know if there is an answer to this (how can sports come back?). Railways/flights can’t resume because social distancing is not possible (in public transport). How can sports resume? I would like for sports to be back once the coronavirus curve flattens. But is it possible? That’s something the virologists and the doctors would be able to say. It’s an unprecedented situation. One has to wait and watch.”

Indian cricketer


“It’s a tricky situation for sure, where even if we go completely COVID-free, we are never sure how safe we are till the vaccine is there. I think technology can play a major role here (for sport to return). We can think of scenarios of virtual reality, where matches can be held in a very private setup with minimal staff, and viewers can join through virtual reality for better experience or through broadcasting on TV, of course. The other possibility could be to look into limited viewers being quarantined prior to the matches and tested before allowing into the stadiums, though it will only work out if we manage to have instant or quick test results.”

National junior pistol shooting coach and former India shooter


“For the next two-three months, I don’t think there will be any competition and they (shooters) shouldn’t go, even if there is one. The range, the door handles, the escalators, the equipment and who’s cleaning it, taking a cab, signing registers, using the same pen — a lot of such things matter. Why will you put your top athletes with Olympic prospects in danger just to rush things back? We have a year and a few months (before the Olympics in 2021), so we can still wait. We have a good team. We should protect them, should not encourage them to come out. It’s not really important to jump and try to do something just because nothing is happening. Be patient and wait for the right time to come out.”

Indian table tennis player


“That is exactly what I’m thinking also (how can sports come back?). Without the vaccine coming out, I don’t think there can be any sport, because in a tournament, there is no social distancing. We have to play in close quarters, training very closely, we are using the hall, there are a lot of people in the hall. I doubt if there are going to be any tournaments by the end of this year. Recently, I read an article that said even the Olympics (in 2021) is also not sure. I guess it is because unless we have a vaccine or a cure, how can we get so many athletes at the same place and make them play. So it is really a big, big question mark. Everything is very uncertain.”

General Secretary, Badminton Association of India


“There is no clarity right now. We have to wait for BWF (World badminton Federation) to release the calendar before we work out the domestic schedule and the exact dates of start. We also need to understand the Government protocols related to social distancing and various other precautionary measures before we finalise our future course.”

Former India hockey coach


“It is critical that sport is brought back to the community as soon as it is safe. With our lives taken up with – how do we survive and make a living? how do we look after our sick? it’s depressing and sport can give a moment of relief to what is happening at the moment. Obviously it’s going to make it difficult without a vaccine.”
“I have spoken to a few doctors about this. They said that, of course, a vaccine is the real answer; but if not, our second view would be to have a treatment similar to HIV, in that (find) a treatment that makes it not so much lethal. That way if enough people can be treated and the population can get to 60 percent immunity, then a herd immunity can be established and that buys time even if a vaccine is not found.”
“For spectators, you either have to have social distancing in effect or fast accurate testing at the facility.”
Source : timesofindia