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Sporting events can resume in August but without fans in stadium, say doctors

CHENNAI : Dr Anthony Fauci, who has become the face of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in the US, made an interesting remark on Wednesday. Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he said live sports could return this summer in the US but put a caveat to it. Only if fans are kept out of it completely.

“Nobody comes to the stadium,” he said during a Snapchat interview. 
“Put (the players) in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled. Have them tested every single week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.”In India, there is talk of hosting the rescheduled Indian Premier League (IPL) any time between June and November.

If the IPL were to be successfully held in that period, health experts believe that fans should not be allowed inside stadia. This daily spoke to three doctors with significant background in infectious diseases and they were of the opinion that sport in the country will not commence at least till the second week of August. “We need to give at least three months after the lockdown so you are probably looking at no live sport till August,” said Ram Gopalakrishnan, a senior infectious diseases physician at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai.

Even when sport does return, Gopalakrishnan, like Fauci, first advocates for sport without fans. “I don’t think there will be fans in stadia for much longer, say till 2021,” he said. “The risk of transmission will be far too great.” Gopalakrishnan also supported the hypothetical notion of conducting a league in one city with players following social distancing whenever possible. However, he doesn’t see any live contact sport coming to TV screens till later in the year. “The risk in a non-contact sport is limited when compared to contact sport, so it can follow later.”

Dr Vivek Nangia, an interventional pulmonologist at Fortis in New Delhi, was even more bleak in his assessment. “It is very difficult to say so right now but if we are talking of timelines, I would say it (live sport) may return by the year end.” If Nangia’s belief holds, that would almost certainly mean no IPL, especially if the BCCI wants to hold it in India, this year. It would also mean no Pro Kabaddi League, the next big sporting competition scheduled to take place (around July) in the country apart from other leagues, domestic cricket and bilateral tours.

When Nangia was asked if India could have live sport sooner if they decide to ban fans, he stuck to the original timeframe of end of the year, but said fans could come in if there was a compulsory diktat with reference to wearing of masks and social distancing.   Dr Swati Rajagopal, an infectious disease consultant at Aster CMI Hospital in Bengaluru, sang from the hymn sheet. She said the return of live sport will probably be the last on the list of things returning to normal. “Physical distancing has been the most important containment strategy beside precautions like hand hygiene… we cannot control the infection spread with crowding.

“It is way too early to determine when sports activity will return. It is unfortunately not a local event, the entire country comes to watch and players would be pushed to risk. So sports activity would be last on the list to return to full swing.” While she refused to put a time frame, the next few weeks will determine when it will return. “I think evolution of the pandemic in the next few weeks is critical for every sector. Sports activity should and will not return anytime soon.”

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