Sports Covid Update: Here’s how Coronavirus might change sports forever…
With the Olympics, T20 World Cup, UEFA European Football Championship, IPL, and Women’s U-17 Football World Cup amongst others in store, 2020 was going to be an action-filled year for sports. However, what transpired was both unanticipated and shocking. The world came to a screeching halt after a novel strain of virus – dubbed as Coronavirus (or officially the SARS-CoV-2) – spread across borders like a raging wildfire.
As a precautionary measure, the governments across the globe imposed lockdowns until permanent aid arrived. And with that the operations of every major industry, including the sports industry, either got curbed or seriously affected. The gravity of the situation was such that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Coronavirus pandemic as mankind’s greatest test since World War II.
Impact of COVID 19 on Sports
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics has become the biggest victim of the Coronavirus pandemic. The global sports mega-event was postponed by a year after growing pressure from all quarters. As a result, host Japan is set to lose at least $ 6 billion.
Five major football leagues across Europe – the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, and Ligue 1 – have suffered a combined revenue loss of over $4 billion in the past two months itself. The National Basketball Academy (NBA) has lost at least $ 650 million in gate & non-ticketing revenue as well. These figures will only rise as the lockdown extends further.
The situation back home in India is not encouraging as well. The world’s richest cricket board – the BCCI and the 8 IPL franchises stand to lose a minimum of ₹ 3,000 crores if the Indian Premier League doesn’t take place in 2020.
In all, the total loss of revenue suffered by the sports industry in 2020 may reach US$ 61.6 billion if the research by a London-based sports marketing agency Two Circles is to be believed.
While Japan, the United States, India, and the European nations will bear the biggest economic costs in sports, small nations will suffer equally as well, with the already limited funds for sports further drying up. Former footballer and Liberian president George Weah recently said that “the future of sports in Africa after Covid-19 is bleak, and is not guaranteed to recover.”
Nonetheless, every calamity brings with it seeds of evolution. And the human race’s ability to adapt to change and evolve is what has set it apart from the 8.7 million other species on the Earth. The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic might bring sweeping changes in the sports industry.
Evolution of Sports
Agreed, changes in the past three months might be far less to use such a term like ‘evolution’. But we also cannot ignore the impact of the pandemic on sports, both short-term and long-term.
Take the Esports industry for instance. Traditionally, it has been a subject of intense debate whether Esports is really a sport. It has more often been looked upon as a ‘game’ rather than a ‘sport’ considering the lack of physicality to it. However, the pandemic brought to fore this exact ‘game’.
With the social distancing norms in place, Esports served dual purpose – giving masses sport’s thrills at home while still staying virtually ‘social’. Considering its values of ‘play at home’ falling in line with the popular consent of ‘stay at home’, many organisations, WHO included, promoted Esports in the fight against Coronavirus.
No wonder the revenue of global Esports industry is expected to hit a record high of $ 1 billion in 2020. This is at a time when almost every other industry (except healthcare and telecommunication) is suffering some or other form of stagnation.
Another beauty of Esports is organisations can live stream the matches to the masses and generate revenue along with it. As the lockdown wore off, many sports bodies including F1, NASCAR, UEFA, Football Association and MLS turned towards Esports to engage their audience. The sheer ease with which these global bodies embraced Esports is enough to symbolise its rise.
With the massive strides Esports is making, it’s not hard to imagine how the future of this domain of sports is. With the integration of VR, AR and other state-of-the-art technologies, many envision Esports to become more ‘physical’, thus rivalling mainstream sports altogether rather than being a part of it.
VR in Sports
Like Esports, the Coronavirus pandemic might be a turning point for Virtual Reality in sports as well. Watching football matches on the small screen can be boring for many. But what if you can get the feel and thrill of watching a game from the stands right from the comfort of your home?
Well today, it is possible to have a highly immersive experience of the match day through advanced VR technologies. Not only that, but fans can also watch highlights and other stats all on one screen while the game is still going on. Given the lack of gate revenues for a foreseeable future, this technology can become a new source of revenue for franchises and stadium owners.
Not only that, advertisements can be placed in the virtual space, thus accounting for additional source of revenue for the organisers.
Getting back on track
Organizing a sports league at a time when governments across the world are declaring strict social distancing norms is very challenging – even if it’s conducted in an empty stadium.
Hosting a sports league can be a logistics headache. Take IPL for instance. To host 56 games, extensive contingents of players, umpires, officials, franchise administrators, support staff, security, franchise owners, broadcasting crew (production teams, commentators, technicians, etc;) advertisement personnel and security amongst others are to be moved across some 10 venues in the country.
It might seem a herculean task in the current scenario. But German Football League (DFL) restarted the Bundesliga, one of the major European football leagues, on May 16. And by doing so, it made an apt demonstration as to how sports leagues can safely get back to business.
Sports covid update: Check how sports events have been affected by Coronavirus
The first thing that the association did was build a Sports Medicine Task Force headed by Prof. Dr Tim Meyer (Medical Director at Saarland University) to ensure the best possible medical infrastructure for handling the medical intricacies of hosting matches during the coronavirus pandemic.
Then, DFL launched a 50-page plan which explained in detail several precautions to be exercised after resuming the games. The entire process can be broadly divided in three categories:
1. Social Distancing
The strict social distancing norms are to be followed during every moment, right from the logistics to hosting the game and back. For the first match, the teams arrived in several buses (instead of one) so that the players could be socially distant on the way to the stadium and back. The
The number of professionals allowed in the stadium is also fixed – 8 groundskeepers, 3 photographers, 4 ball boys and 4 medical personnel. Other members such as the security guards, journalists, doping control, coaches and police are all accounted for. Masks are mandatory for every one of them.
Although the starters can play without masks, the reserves have to be seated in the stands (as against the dugout) at a suitable distance wearing the masks. Multiple locker rooms are used to maintain distancing.
Between the matches, the players and supporting staff are strictly quarantined in team hotels.
2. Regular Screening
Regular Screening forms an important strategy in DFL’s plan. Along with the mandatory temperature check, the players have to undergo Coronavirus tests at least twice a week. If someone is tested positive, the players as well as those coming in their contact shall be quarantined for at least 14 days. DFL claims that it has conducted over 1,700 tests across its two leagues while identifying 10 positive cases.
The match ball as well as other equipment are effectively disinfected before and after the game.
Although the plan has worked as per desire until now, it might not be entirely fool-proof. (A couple of players broke the social distancing rules last week). However, by launching the league at a time when there’s hardly any other football action, DFL has managed to control the loss in revenue while also helping the Bundesliga reach a wider audience worldwide.
With 1,83,019 COVID-19 cases (as of 30th May 2020), Germany among the worst hit European nations. However, this neatly laid strategy has enabled the country to safely execute Bundesliga – a league that is estimated to contribute nearly €8 billion to the German economy annually. Other leagues across the world, including IPL, can take a leaf out of DFL’s efforts.
I would like to mention here that boards across the world have already started preparing guidelines for resumption of the respective sports. ICC, in particular, released a document for resumption of cricket last week.