Sports vs coronavirus

May 3, 2020

By clamping down on sports, humanity might be wasting one of its biggest weapons in the war against Covid-19

The headline might suggest otherwise but I’m not about to argue the case of beginning a battle between sports and the virus.

That’s because there is no contest. Had there been any, countless major sporting events won’t stand cancelled, at least not without a proper fight.

The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which were supposed to be the greatest sporting spectacle in history, have been delayed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Games are now scheduled to take place in July-August 2021. But as the man in-charge of the Games, Yoshiro Mori, recently admitted there are real fears that the Olympics might not take place next year either. In that case, the Games will be scrapped. It would be a great tragedy if such fears do come true.

The list of this year’s major sporting events that have either been postponed or cancelled is an endless one. Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II. The British Open, one of the most prestigious golf tournaments, was cancelled. The 2020 Tour de France has been postponed and might be scrapped.

There is no arguing the fact that there was little else the events’ organisers could have done. After all, public health comes first. But for how long can you put a halt to sporting activities?

And I’m not just talking about international tournaments. Since the best part of the world was forced into some kind of a lockdown last month, sports has taken a severe beating worldwide. Due to strict physical distancing measures, authorities had banned almost all sporting activities.

Once again, many experts agreed that the authorities did what was necessary.

However, recently there is a growing support for the idea that people should be allowed to resume sports that carry the least risks to public health. More and more experts are arguing that it’s important for the general population to stay healthy, both physically and mentally to ward off the risks of falling terribly sick because of Covid-19. And sports can certainly help.

It is common knowledge that the human body needs to have its immune system in shape to fight all kinds of germs and viruses and that includes the biggest terror of them all – the novel coronavirus. And is there a better way to boost your immune system than indulging in a sporting activity that you love?

The best defense is a good offence. Sports can help give us the sort of defense we need to counter the virus. Nobody is talking about just going out there and pretending that everything could be normal. Unless we have a vaccine normalcy, in the true sense of the word, will not return. But it’s time that we adapt to the new normal. And we can start by opening up as many sports facilities as possible.

Of course you can’t resume activities that take place in closed spaces or in which physical distancing is not possible. So maybe sports like squash and boxing will have to wait. But what about golf or tennis and is it safe to allow people to resume these games?

I personally think it is. And so do experts as well as authorities in many parts of the world.

Take the example of golf. In some countries golf courses weren’t closed at all even during the height of the pandemic. But many did order closure of all facilities during lockdowns. Some of those countries have now reopened their golf courses.

The reason? Well, for one physical distancing is not a problem when you are playing on a golf course that is spread over hundreds of acres of land. Then there is the fact that golf courses offer green spaces, allowing people to spend time in healthy environs while posing minimal risk to public health.

However, in Pakistan, most of the golf courses remain closed and so far there are no plans to reopen them.

“It is time that the authorities review this decision,” says Asad I.A Khan, President of the Sindh Golf Association (SGA). An avid golfer, Asad has been making efforts to convince the authorities to allow the reopening of golf courses. “It’s happening everywhere in the world. Sports activities help promote public health and that’s what we need right now. I believe that they should remove the ban on any sports activities that do not pose any worthwhile health risks,” he adds.

While chatting with him, I recalled my last interaction with Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim. I think it was sometime in the summer of 2018. He was hitting golf balls at the practice range of the Karachi Golf Club. Almost 90, he was struggling. I was practicing on a nearby mat. After hitting a few balls, he took a breather. Turned towards me and said: “this is what keeps me alive.”

Ask any avid sportsperson in their seventies or eighties and they would tell you the same. Many younger ones will echo the same feeling.

Last week, I also talked to another active golfer, Aslam R. Khan. Before the pandemic, he would play golf 365 days a year. Now he hasn’t played a round since March 22. “It’s awful,” he told me.

By keeping them away from their golf courses and tennis courts they might be, to an extent, shielding our senior citizens from the virus but the authorities are playing havoc with their physical and psychological wellbeing.

It is time that we start thinking about plan B. Lockdowns were the need of the hour when things went south but it is clear that extended closures are not the answer, at least not in the long run. People need to get on with their lives.

We have to quickly devise ways and means to pave the path for it. In the field of sports, SOPs are already in place that can ensure physical distancing and minimise the risk of spreading the virus. While enforcing them, the authorities should allow activities to resume. Such decisions need to be taken. And fast.

Sports is not just a pastime and a means to stay healthy. It’s a major industry and provides for the livelihood of tens of millions of people around the world. In the United States alone, sports generate more than 71 billion dollars annually.

In Pakistan, it might not be that big a chunk of the economy, but sports still matters a big deal to all associated with it. So it’s worth taking this shot.

As the legendary Wayne Gretzky once famously said: “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take.”

Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports The News

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Sports vs coronavirus