The past month has seen a worldwide panic due to the fear of the spread of the coronavirus. A trip to your local pharmacy and you will find people stocking up on face masks and hand sanitizer. The panic has gotten so bad that the Surgeon General in the United States has released a statement for people to stop buying face masks, as there is a worldwide shortage. Hospitals and other medical facilities where masks are vital to controlling the disease are running low.
Sporting events around the world are beginning to be cancelled, postponed, or played behind closed doors. Ireland and Italy’s Six Nations rugby match scheduled for March 7th has been postponed until further notice. The Champions League round of 16 match between Valencia and Atalanta will be played, but without fans in attendance. The Premier League has announced that all pre-match hand shakes will be banned until further notice.
But how effective are these measures at controlling the spread of disease? And is it creating more problems due to panic?
A fan that was planning to go to a match that is now being played behind closed doors may just go to the pub and watch the match with friends anyway. People are still making the daily commute via tube or bus, where the crowds are packed much more intimately than a football match. Players that don’t shake hands pre-match will find themselves jostling against each other minutes later for a corner kick.
I am not saying that we should downplay the severity of the disease or the seriousness of taking precautions to prevent the disease. But society is not shutting down, so why should sport?
The CDC has released a statement on their website outlining ways to implement emergency plans into action for large community events, without necessarily cancelling them altogether.
There are already stewards at every entrance point, why can’t we have someone distributing hand sanitizer for all that enter the stadium? In light of a concessions worker in the XFL testing positive for the coronavirus, you could stop all distribution of food and drink. Have masks on hand for anyone with a sneeze or cough. Have a pool of emergency staff ready to go if anyone calls in sick.
My point is that there is a way for these sporting events to take place with the right precautions, and people would be no more at risk of contracting the coronavirus than going shopping at your local supermarket.
Most importantly, sports clubs need to do a better job of educating fans on how to safely attend a match. On Twitter, the CDC only has 1.5 million followers, while Manchester United football club has 22 million. Clubs should be sending out messages on hand washing, avoiding events if you are sick, etc.
Football clubs have a lot of power in that there are millions of people that follow their every move. There is a responsibility to educate and raise awareness. Football clubs can work together with the health organizations to spread important messages about the virus.
Simply canceling sport events is not enough. It just creates fear and panic. Education of the public and taking proper sanitation measures is the way forward.
Life goes on and until society shuts down the schools, workplaces, and public transport, sports fans and the general public alike are susceptible to the coronavirus.