Forced out of grounds, tracks and courts by the COVID-19 pandemic, sports events may help in the long run, but medical experts on Wednesday warned that resuming anything this year could mean putting lives at risk.
When sporting events do eventually make a comeback, which some of the region’s top doctors believe is not going to happen until at least the next six months or may be nine, it may not be the same initially. From cricket, football, tennis, racing, to the mother of all sporting events, the Olympics, the novel coronavirus has not spared anything. “I have no doubt that sport is great but at the moment, the focus is on saving lives, and having sports events, which attract large crowds, could prove to be disastrous,” Akash Sabharwal, a renowned sports injury surgeon associated with the Max Hospitals, told PTI. Since the “transmission rate is very high”, he said it should be completely avoided for a substantial period of time, even though sport encourages physical and mental well-being besides a sense of inclusivity.
As chief executives of various leagues and administrators mull ways to restart tournaments and championships once the pandemic is brought under control, the doctor said even hosting them without an audience is not advisable at this point of time. “That can be done when things are much better from what they are now. But even then, it will be risky as it involves players, officials, organisers and so many staff, and chances of getting infected will always be there,” he added. “I understand big money is involved in events like the IPL, but even the Olympics have been postponed, because there is no other option.”
The BCCI on Tuesday told Indian Premier League franchises that the event stands “postponed indefinitely” after the lockdown to combat the pandemic was extended till May 3, leaving no scope for the league to take place during its designated window. Dr Ashis Acharya, a sports medicine expert at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, one of the capital’s top health institutes, went a step further and said live games should not be held for at least six months. “Sports is way down in the priority right now. We have to first focus on the essentials so that people are not strained. I don’t think it is wise to have them for at least the next three to six months,” Acharya said.
Dr Neha Gupta, an infectious disease specialist at Gurugram’s Medanta Hospital, concurred with Sabharwal and Acharya. “We have seen that with this new virus, the chances of spread is very high, so I don’t think sports events should be held for some months, at least till the time the situation is not brought under control,” Gupta said. No different was the thinking of Dr Puneet Khanna, the head of respiratory medicine department at the Manipal Hospital in Dwarka. “It’s absolutely wise to not host any sporting events for three to six months at least, and doing otherwise could prove to be a disaster, putting lives in danger,” he said. “At best, they can be held without audience with most of the people catching the action on television. And that after the situation improves from what it is is now.”
India currently has over 11,500 positive cases with more than 350 recorded deaths, making it virtually impossible for the government to lift any of the restrictions put in place last month. Across the world, the pandemic, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province, has claimed more than 1.2 lakh lives, while infecting over 20 lakh people. All sporting events, big and small, have been either cancelled or postponed in the wake of the unprecedented global health crisis, with the biggest of them being the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics by a year.