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Sporting Events Affected by COVID-19

Posted on June 01 2020

Sporting Events Affected by COVID-19


Each year, the city of Indianapolis, Indiana, hosts the largest single-day sporting event in the world: the Indianapolis 500. Held over Memorial Day weekend, the race includes 33 drivers who reach top speeds of over 200 miles per hour. All of the drivers compete to be the first to finish 200 laps around the 2.5 mile-long track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2019, an estimated 300,000 racing fans filled the stands and infield to watch French racing driver Simon Pagenaud win the race’s coveted Borg-Warner Trophy.

However, this year on Memorial Day weekend, the stands will be empty. Like many sporting events, precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have affected this car race. The Indianapolis 500 is being postponed until Sunday, August 23.


Sporting Events Affected by COVID-19


“It’s so bizarre,” says professional driver James Hinchcliffe. “I live in Indianapolis. I know it’s just down the street, but it’s crazy to think you’re spending all this time [at home] rather than at the racetrack.”

According to Two Circles, a sports marketing agency, Hinchcliffe will not be the only athlete spending more time at home in 2020. Two Circles says that only about 53 percent of the major sporting events scheduled for 2020 will happen this year. To count as a major sporting event, an event must be ticketed, feature professional or competitive sports, and have an expected attendance of at least 5,000 people.

In addition to disappointing sports fans, cancelled sporting events will take an economic toll on the sports industry. For example, in 2019, the entire global sporting industry received $129 billion in revenue from tickets, merchandise, media, and sponsorship rights. In 2020, it is expected to receive $73.7 billion—about $55 billion less.

These losses are hardly surprising, considering sports fans’ attitudes about COVID-19. According to Seton Hall University’s Seton Hall Sports Poll, 72 percent of Americans who were asked said that they would not attend games before a coronavirus vaccine is developed. In contrast, only 12 percent said they would attend without a vaccine being available, as long as social distancing guidelines were maintained, while 13 percent said they would feel just as safe attending sporting events now as they have in the past. Since most medical experts say there won’t likely be a tested and approved COVID-19 vaccine until 2021, even sporting events that proceed as scheduled in 2020 are likely to have far fewer spectators.

“This virus has the attention and respect of the nation,” says Rick Gentile, who directs the Seton Hall Sports Poll. “Those who identify as sports fans, at all levels of interest, line up closely with the general population in regard to their own safety and that of the players.”

In addition to auto racing, basketball is another sport being affected by COVID-19. The NBA was the first major U.S. league to postpone its 2019-2020 season because of the pandemic. The NBA postponed its season in March after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert reportedly tested positive for coronavirus. However, league officials are still debating whether they should continue the NBA season.

“It is the responsibility of the league office to explore all options for a return to play this season,” the NBA said in a statement. “We owe that to our fans, teams, players, partners and all who love the game. While our top priority remains everyone’s health and well-being, we continue to evaluate all options to finish this season. At the same time, we are intensely focused on addressing the potential impact of Covid-19 on the 2020-21 season.”

It is still not certain whether the NBA will resume basketball games to finish out the 2019-2020 season. However, in an informal poll of players, the National Basketball Players Association found that most would be willing to finish the currently postponed season if it could be done safely.

The National Football League, or NFL, continued to hold the draft, which is when players just out of college are formally picked by teams. This year, Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow was the first player drafted. Instead of a large, in-person event, however, the draft was done virtually. Earlier in May, the NFL released the playing schedule for 2020 in an optimistic move. Time will tell if or how football will be affected by the pandemic.

Major League Baseball (MLB) has also been adjusting its season because of the virus. In March, the league’s commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the Opening Day of the 2020 season would be delayed until at least mid-May, several weeks after the scheduled March opening day. With mid-May already past, MLB is now targeting a July 4 opening day.

Surprisingly, this is not the first pandemic that baseball has needed to confront. Professional baseball players continued to play during the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918. The outbreak of the flu coincided with another catastrophic event: World War I. Team owners were worried that the war would affect game attendance. According to Jacob Pomrenke from the Society for American Baseball Research, team owners tried to get as many fans into the bleachers "in as short of a time as possible because they didn't know how many games they'd be allowed to play,"

It is believed that legendary baseball players Babe Ruth and Red Faber both fell ill to a strain of the Spanish flu. Both recovered. Less fortunate were outfielder Larry Chappell as well as several prominent sportswriters and umpires who died from the disease. However, at that time, according to Pomrenke, professional baseball players "had no say. If they were told to return to the field, even in a public health crisis, that was it." Eventually 675,000 Americans would die from the Spanish flu.

Along with professional athletes, student athletes are also finding their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the National Federation of State High School Associations has just released a set of guidelines for schools to consider when starting up their athletic programs. In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the federation states that “state, local or school district guidelines for cloth face coverings should be strictly followed.” They also suggested that schools follow a three-phase plan as they return to sports.

Phase 1

Phase 2

Phase 3

Coaches’ and students’ temperatures checked prior to workout.

No gathering of more than 10 people at a time inside. Up to 50 people may gather outside for workouts.

Gatherings of up to 50 people allowed indoors and outdoors.

No gatherings of more than 10 people at a time. Workouts conducted in groups of 5-10 students, with the same students always working out together.

Locker rooms used if there is a minimum distance of six feet between each individual.

Students and coaches should maintain a minimum distance of three feet when not directly participating in practice or games.

Locker rooms not used.

Workouts conducted in groups of students with the same 5-10 students always working out together.

Maintain a minimum distance of six feet between each person.

The National Federation of State High School Associations also ranked sports according to their risk of spreading the virus. In the high risk category were football, wrestling, competitive cheer, and dance. Sports at moderate risk include baseball, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, and field hockey. Sports with the lowest risk for spreading the virus include individual swimming, sideline cheer, and cross country running.

Finally, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, have been postponed a year. They were to take place July of 2020, but they will now be held the same month in 2021, with the Paralympics following.

"A certain amount of time is required for the selection and qualification of athletes and for their training and preparation," Tokyo 2020 President Mori Yoshirō said, "and the consensus was that staging the rescheduled Games during the summer vacation in Japan would be preferable." Despite the year change, the games will still be known as the 2020 Olympics, according to the International Olympic Committee, or IOC.

Across the globe, people wait and wonder how life will change because of the coronavirus, including the world of sports.


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